Gynaecomastia can be a tricky condition to deal with. Although it’s not usually medically serious, it can significantly impact your self-esteem and confidence. Men with gynaecomastia have a condition where their breasts are enlarged. Grades of gynaecomastia define the severity of the condition. Read on to learn the symptoms of severe gynaecomastia and how you can treat it.
What is Gynaecomastia?
Gynaecomastia is a common condition that can affect boys and men. It’s a non-cancerous condition that increases the male breast tissue. Despite being common, it’s not spoken about as much as it should. Often, this is because people with gynaecomastia feel embarrassed about the condition. Gynaecomastia can affect one or both breasts and make the area painful or tender to touch. While gynaecomastia isn’t necessarily cancer, the doctor will run some tests to rule out breast cancer.
The condition causes uneven swelling in one or both breasts, where one breast becomes larger than the other one. You may also experience breast tenderness. See a doctor immediately if you have breast swelling, tenderness, pain or notice a discharge from one or both nipples.
What Are the Causes of Gynaecomastia?
Several factors can cause gynaecomastia. They include:
Boys make the hormone testosterone responsible for their sexual growth during puberty. However, males also make a small amount of the hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is the hormone responsible for sexual development in girls. As boys go through puberty or when older men’s bodies make less testosterone, changes occur in the balance of the two hormones. If that happens and oestrogen is the dominant hormone, it can cause the breasts to swell. About half of adolescent boys will have some degree of breast enlargement due to hormonal changes.
Gaining a lot of weight can lead to male breast enlargement. Why? Weight gain leads to increased oestrogen production, which causes the male breasts to grow. When you’re overweight, you are also more likely to have excess fat tissue, which can cause your breast to appear larger than usual. For some people, losing weight may improve the condition, but some have to undergo gynaecomastia surgery to correct the condition.
In the womb, oestrogen can pass from the mother to the baby, leading to enlarged breasts in male babies. Usually, this clears a few weeks after the baby is born. Enlarged breasts in newborn babies are nothing to worry about unless the baby has other underlying conditions that may lead to hormonal imbalances.
As men age, the levels of testosterone reduce. Also, older men are more likely to have more body fat, resulting in a spike in oestrogen levels. Such changes may result in male breast enlargement.
Gynaecomastia can also be caused by other factors, including:
- Side effects of medications used to treat certain diseases like heart disease and ulcers
- Alcohol misuse
- Use of illegal drugs like anabolic steroids and cannabis
- Underlying health conditions like liver disease and kidney failure
- Klinefelter syndrome – a rare genetic disorder that results in smaller testicles, thus decreased testosterone levels
- Testicular lump infections
What are the Symptoms of Severe Gynaecomastia?
Symptoms of gynaecomastia can range from mild to severe gynaecomastia. The condition can be categorised into four grades to help doctors treat male breasts in a more standardised way. To better understand the symptoms of gynaecomastia, here is a breakdown of the different groups.
This is a slight breast enlargement around the areola or the area around the nipple. The small, yet enlarged breast, could be a different colour from the existing tissue. At this stage, it’s not easy to spot the condition under clothing.
Grade 2 gynaecomastia is usually moderate breast enlargement that has gone beyond the areola or the surrounding area of the nipple. This could be more noticeable in the pectoral area. Even at this stage, it’s also difficult to notice under clothing.
The breast enlargement is still considered moderate at this grade, as in grade 2, but much more visible. Typically, if the less invasive procedures and medications have failed to treat the condition, experts would recommend a surgical alternative.
Grade 4 is the highest. For this, you would expect a patient to have highly feminine-looking breasts with excess skin. This is severe gynaecomastia and is usually highly visible even under clothing. Typically, at this stage of severe gynaecomastia, you would need surgery to treat the condition. The breast tissue can also be painful or tender, but this isn’t always the case.
How To How to Get Rid of Gynaecomastia
Usually, you receive a diagnosis of gynaecomastia from your GP. Sometimes, the doctor may refer you to a breast clinic for a diagnosis, including a mammogram. This is because sometimes, gynaecomastia can be a symptom of something else, so your GP will want to examine other body parts.
Surgery is typically recommended to treat significant breast enlargement with excess amounts of skin. Male breast reduction surgery permanently removes the breast tissue. Your surgeon will make an incision around the nipple and remove the excess tissue. The technique used during the surgery depends on the severity of gynaecomastia. In general, the surgery involves liposuction. But more severe cases may need excess tissue and skin removed during the procedure. Because of that, male breast reduction scarring can differ.
Gynaecomastia Surgery Before and After
Symptoms Of Severe Gynaecomastia Q & A
What is severe gynaecomastia?
Gynaecomastia is a condition that primarily affects men and boys. It involves the overdevelopment of the breast tissue, making them larger and may grow unevenly. Various factors often cause it, for example, changes in estrogen (female hormone) and testosterone (male hormone) levels. Gynaecomastia could also occur as a side effect of certain drugs, such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and antidepressants. If an individual has severe gynaecomastia, it means they have obvious and apparent symptoms at the highest grade.
Can gynecomastia be life-threatening?
Gynaecomastia is not a severe medical condition, therefore, not life-threatening. However, it can result in significant emotional distress, mainly due to the aesthetics. This is because it often negatively impacts self-esteem and confidence among men.
What happens if gynaecomastia is not treated?
In most cases, gynaecomastia resolves on its own with minimal treatment. This is because most cases of this condition often do not result in long-term complications. Therefore, to fully understand if you are at risk of developing complications due to gynaecomastia, consult a healthcare team and receive the recommended treatment. However, in some cases, gynaecomastia may not clear up on its own and may require surgery.
When should I be concerned about gynaecomastia?
If you feel that gynaecomastia negatively affects your self-confidence, it is important to see your doctor. Your doctor will also run tests to get a proper diagnosis and rule out anything that could be causing the symptoms of gynaecomastia. Your doctor will recommend the best course of treatment. In some cases, plastic surgery is required to restore a more masculine and chiselled chest.
What does gynaecomastia feel like?
Gynaecomastia is characterised by various signs and symptoms that distinguish it from other conditions. These include a feeling of pain and tenderness in the chest area, some may experience swelling in the area, and the area may also feel hard or rubbery. In some cases, you may feel a solid lump underneath your skin in the chest area.
How do you know if you have gynaecomastia or fat?
You know if you have gynaecomastia or fat based on the signs and symptoms you are experiencing and also the texture of your chest. Specifically, if you have gynaecomastia, you may feel a hard lump under your skin, and it may also be firm to touch. In addition, unlike chest fat, whereby you are likely to have saggy skin, gynaecomastia makes your chest appear rounder and more defined. Ultimately, your doctor will be able to diagnose the condition.
How do doctors check for gynaecomastia?
Doctors follow various steps when checking for gynaecomastia. They start by taking your past health and medical history, which is followed by a physical exam. In addition, since breast enlargement in males may result from various conditions, further tests are carried out to rule out other conditions. These tests include urine tests, blood tests, mammograms, and biopsies. In cases where the tests are not needed, your doctor may recommend you see an endocrinologist for hormone analysis.