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Overview of gynecomastia

Gynecomastia is a condition that affects man and is characterized by an enlargement of the breast due to a growth of tissues. Often a harmless condition, gynecomastia is common in newborns, adolescents, and older men, reduces on its own over time but can also need treatment to minimize emotional anguish and physical anxiety.


Symptoms of gynecomastia

The symptoms of gynecomastia include swollen breast gland tissue and breast tenderness that does not correct itself over a year or two of first appearing. 


Causes of gynecomastia

There is no definitive cause behind gynecomastia and it may be a combination of more than one reason. In some cases the condition maybe genetic in nature. In others it may be a case of hormonal imbalance or cases of drug overdose. Adolescent boys are more susceptible to the condition and it is suspected that gynecomastia may also be linked to obesity and excess fat deposit around the tissues of the breast. In most cases as a boy attains puberty and grows in age, conditions of gynecomastia decreases substantially and it some cases may disappear completely. In cases where it remains, it may not justify medical attention. 

In the cases of hormonal imbalance the levels of estradiol and testosterone in the body can be abnormal. Hormonal imbalance is particularly true for older men in the age group of over 50 years. For men in this age group the level of testosterone produced by the body decreases while the level of estrogen or the female hormone increases. In some cases it is also a case of having higher levels of estrogen compared to androgen.

Gynecomastia is also causes due to use and abuse of certain drugs and medications. This includes class of drugs like antibiotics, antiulcer drugs, growth hormones, anabolic steroids and aids medications. Sometimes procedure like chemotherapy that is used to treat cancer is also known to stimulate gynecomastia. Abuse of alcohol, heroin, marijuana are also associated with gynecomastia. Diseases that cause the problem include adrenal diseases, liver diseases, pituitary tumors, thyroid disease, and renal failure. Rarely gynecomastia may also be a sign of cancer or hyperthyroidism.


Diagnosis of gynecomastia

Every diagnosis by a doctor starts with a careful physical checkup to ascertain the condition and the stage of gynecomastia. A doctor may also call on a blood tests and mammograms to determine the cause of problem. In cases where adverse effect of medication is suspected, a doctor would like to review all the medication a person is on. A doctor would also like to know any history of substance and drug abuse that may lead to gynecomastia.

Some cases may need an imaging test like

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

Where problems of the testis is suspected a testicular ultrasounds maybe called for and in rare cases a tissue biopsy of the breast may also be done. In some cases a doctor would also like to eliminate problems with similar conditions like breast cancer and infections of the breast tissue.


Treatment of gynecomastia

Patients with gynecomastia generally do not need any treatment and the condition becomes normal within a year or two. A number of medications are available to treat gynecomastia and medicines like tamoxifen is known to somewhat effective. On the other hand it is found that sometimes medication for disease like prostate cancer causes gynecomastia. In such cases it is often seen that men prefer to discontinue the medicine. 

Sometimes it may be needed to ascertain factors like hyperthyroidism and medications to tackle it should be administered. Further studies have revealed that tamoxifen or raloxifen along with bicalutamide or bicalutamide can also work effectively in cases of gynecomastia.  A class of drugs called aromataste inhibitors (AI) that is used to treat breast cancer and ovarian cancer in women cal also be used to treat gynecomastia. An example of AI is anastrozole.

Surgery can also be performed when medication has failed. A technique called liposuction is used to correct gynecomastia when it is caused due to breast fat while a procedure called mastectomy is more helpful when the conditions needs to be corrected by removing the breast tissue. Both the type of surgeries is known to generally give good results for the problem of gynecomastia.


Coping with gynecomastia

Gynecomastia can be a very embarrassing problem for men and many may suffer emotionally and mentally for it. A teenager suffering from gynecomastia is often ridiculed and teased. It maybe worthwhile to seek counseling to talk about the stress and the issues around gynecomastia. Reaching out to friends and family can also help. Lastly talking to others that have gynecomastia and learning from their experiences can help. 


Prevention of gynecomastia

The only precautions one can take is to avoid substance abuse and drugs, drink less alcohol and avoid medication that are known to cause gynecomastia. 

Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: August 26, 2013

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