Gynecomastia, or enlarged or developed breasts in men, can happen to a male at any age and at any time of his life. The enlarged breasts not only affect a man’s looks and self esteem. They can also cause physical discomfort, as they might be tender.
Because the subject of gynecomastia can be a bit uncomfortable for many, there is a fair amount of misinformation about it. There are myths about what causes the condition and the ways to treat it.
Myth: It’s Only Caused by Excess Fat
One common myth about gynecomastia is that only very overweight men develop it. A man who’s at a healthy weight might assume that he is in the clear because he doesn’t have a lot of extra fat. While there are cases where excess fat can make a man’s breasts look larger, fat alone isn’t the cause of the condition. Gynecomastia occurs when a male develops actual breast tissue, not just a bit of fat in the chest area.
Fact: Hormones Play a Part
What’s really behind gynecomastia is an imbalance of hormones. A man is more likely to develop breast tissue when the amount of testosterone in his body decreases and the amount of estrogen increases. Although associated with female characteristics, all males have a small amount of estrogen in their bodies. When estrogen levels rise, problems can develop, such as male breast tissue.
Myth and Fact: You’ll Develop Breasts if You…
The big question might be: what can cause a man’s estrogen levels to rise? The answer is a number of things. There’s also a lot of misinformation about what can lead to a significant increase in estrogen or a significant hormone imbalance.
For example, alcohol consumption is often connected to gynecomastia. But, not necessarily in the ways people think. IPAs or beers with high levels of hops are sometimes blamed for causing the condition or there’s a scare that drinking a lot of IPAs will trigger the development of breasts. Hops do contain a type of phytoestrogen, or a type of estrogen found in plants. Overall, the levels of phytoestrogen found in IPAs or other types of hoppy beer aren’t high enough to create a hormonal imbalance in men.
But, there can be an issue when it comes to alcohol consumption. A man who drinks a lot can be causing damage to his liver. Liver damage can interfere with the organ’s ability to convert hormones from one form to another, leading to the development of breast tissue.
Certain prescription medications can also cause gynecomastia, such as medicines taken for an enlarged prostate, as well as anti-depressants, some antibiotics, and heart medications. Endocrine problems in a man can also lead to the development of breast tissue, such as an overactive thyroid or an underactive pituitary gland. Some herbal treatments, such as the use of lavender oil, might increase a man’s chance of developing gynecomastia.
Myth: You Can Exercise the Breasts Away
In some cases, gynecomastia will resolve on its own, as soon as the hormonal imbalance is corrected. There’s a misconception that increasing the amount you exercise or that performing exercises that focus on toning the chest will help the issue. That might be true if the enlarged breasts are due to extra fat tissue only. But, since gynecomastia is the development of breast tissue, there is no way to burn off the extra tissue. Even if the enlarged breasts were only thanks to fat, there’s no real way to “spot train” the body, meaning that you can’t perform a series of exercises and expect to see a significant reduction in fat in one part of the body only.
Fact: Surgery Can Be a Good Option
Surgery can be a reliable treatment option for men with gynecomastia that doesn’t resolve itself when a hormone imbalance is corrected or when medications related to the condition are adjusted. There are a few options for surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.
A man with limited breast tissue but a considerable amount of extra fat in the chest area will most likely benefit the most from liposuction. If there is a considerable amount of breast tissue and fat, the surgeon will most likely perform liposuction to remove the fat and excise, or cut away, the breast tissue, through an incision made near the armpit or nipple.
The most severe cases of gynecomastia require a more complicated surgery, which usually combines liposuction, excision of the breast tissue, and a breast lift to remove any excess, loose skin. More severe cases typically require a procedure that is similar to that of a breast reduction in female patients.
Gynecomastia can be an embarrassing condition. But, it’s not something that guys have to live with. In the Washington, DC area, Dr. George Bitar, a board certified plastic surgeon, helps men get their bodies back. To learn more about your surgical options, call (703) 206-0506 to schedule an appointment today.
George Bitar, MD, FACS is an award-winning, board-certified cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon, the Founder and Medical Director of Bitar Cosmetic Surgery Institute in Virginia. He specializes in the latest surgical and minimally invasive techniques to scar management and reduction. Dr. Bitar is involved in groundbreaking research and education in plastic surgery and has authored numerous articles, abstracts, and chapters.