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Dealing With Gynecomastia

Men love boobs—but only on babes. Unfortunately, some guys grow breasts of their own. Seinfeld poked fun at man boobs when Kramer and Mr. Costanza invented the “manssiere.” However, man boobs can be a troubling issue. The medical term for this condition is gynecomastia, and is generally diagnosed when men grow abnormally large breasts due to the overdevelopment of breast tissue. In some rare occasions, men may also produce milk (as the breasts are, in fact, mammary glands). This condition is not to be confused with pseudogynecomastia (excess chest fat) or pectoral hypertrophy (you know, having massive pecs from all that awesome bench work).

Living with breasts can be an extreme blow to a man’s self-confidence and body image. Activities that “flat-chested” men take for granted, going to the beach, the gym or being intimate with your lover, can be very difficult for men with gynecomastia. Men dealing with the issue spend a lot of time playing cover-up by wearing baggy shirts, layering tops and even keeping their shirt on during sex.

What causes gynecomastia?

If breast growth isn’t caused by a genetic condition (i.e., Klinefelter's syndrome), then it’s more commonly caused by hormone imbalances. Gynecomastia usually affects pubescent boys or older men. The ratio of male to female hormones is one cause of gynecomastia. The dude who can grow a full beard in three hours has estrogen coursing through his veins just like Salma Hayek, however, when the amount of estrogen in a man’s body is too high, or if he’s estrogen-sensitive, that can cause breast growth. During puberty, when hormones are making your life a living hell, gynecomastia can develop. In adolescence and in young men, height is a factor, as very tall guys have been found to have this problem.

Other causes of this condition are excessive alcohol consumption and steroid use. Older men, whose androgen production will decrease, can also develop the condition, especially if they are undergoing treatment for prostate cancer. Gynecomastia can also be a problem for men who are overweight or obese. The excess fat can cause breast development.

Talk about gynecomastia

The cause of your gynecomastia will determine the treatment. Although it may be difficult, you should talk about the issue with family and friends. They’ll have a better understanding of what you are going through. Consider seeing a therapist or joining a support group. Talking about a problem helps you feel less alone and the problem will appear less overwhelming, minimizing depression and anxiety. Luckily, for a majority of pubescent boys, the breasts shrink away within a couple of years due to hormone levels stabilizing.

Possible treatments for gynecomastia

Change your medications

Speak with your doctor if any medication you are on is causing the breast growth. In rare cases, certain medications that are used to treat pain, arthritis and certain anti-inflammatory medications act like steroids in the body. Prescribing a different medication may be possible, unless we’re talking about hormone therapy that is essential. Quit steroids if that’s what's causing your breast growth. The steroids are totally screwing up your hormones, probably giving you “backne” (acne on your back) and shrinking your testicles. Unless those are the results you were after.

Gynecomastia can be treated with the following...

Diet changes

In cases of pseudogynecomastia, changing your diet and losing excess weight is a smart idea, hitting the weights hard is not. Women are instructed to do chest work to lift their breasts. The same will happen to a man with gynecomastia. The pectoral muscle, which lies underneath the breast tissue, will support the breast and make it higher and more prominent. Remember, spot training or spot reduction doesn’t work. However, losing weight overall will help reduce and minimize the fat that as accumulated in the breast area.

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Male breast reduction

Male breast reduction is an option when gynecomastia cannot be treated by alternative methods. A consultation with a board certified plastic surgeon is highly recommended. The male plastic surgery can average $3,000 dollars, but prices can vary greatly. During this procedure, breast tissue is removed either by liposuction (fatty tissue) or excision (glandular tissue), leaving a more masculine contour. However, both techniques may be necessary. Male breast reduction is also performed on an outpatient basis in some instances. Surgery is only performed on men in good physical condition and in a healthy weight range. Surgeons will want to assure the skin is still elastic enough to “fit” over the tighter contour and to minimize complications. There are risks of permanent nipple numbness, scarring, swelling, and breast asymmetry. A second surgery may be needed to make the chest more symmetrical. In cases of extreme weight loss, surgery may be necessary to remove excess skin.

Man up to your moobs

In about 25 percent of gynecomastia cases there is no known cause. Consult with your doctor so you can be tested for hypogonadism (any condition that affects testosterone production). If you are living with the problem, certain lifestyle changes can be made to improve the quality of your life. More immediate results are possible with surgery. However, surgery will only be performed on men who are healthy physically and emotionally. Monitor your emotional and mental well-being by talking about your condition with supportive friends and family, and never keep your shirt on during sex again.