Gynecomastia is a common condition that refers to enlargement of breast tissue in males. Besides the obvious gynecomastia symptoms of swelling and tenderness in one or both breasts, a host of other health problems may be present. Depending on the underlying causes of the disorder, a man may experience nipple discharge, changes in mood, feelings of fatigue, and nausea. Doctors can usually treat gynecomastia symptoms by suggesting lifestyle changes and prescribing medications. Surgery may be necessary if the breasts grow unusually large or a suspicious tumor is found in breast tissue.
Most cases of gynecomastia result from imbalances in testosterone and estrogen levels in the body. Several different factors can influence hormonal changes, the most common of which is male puberty. Many pubescent boys exhibit mild gynecomastia symptoms for several months or years, and eventually their chests return to normal. Newborns may also have enlarged breasts for up to one month after birth due to exposure to high estrogen levels from their mothers in the womb. When gynecomastia occurs in older adult males, problems may be related to medication use, hyperthyroidism, glandular tumors, or kidney or liver damage.
The most common gynecomastia symptoms are swollen nipples and soft, palpable breast tissue. Many men experience unsymmetrical enlargement, meaning that one breast grows larger than the other. Breast tissue is often tender to the touch, and the skin around the nipples may be slightly darker or redder than usual. High estrogen levels may also cause mood swings, a decreased sex drive, and tender, swollen testicles. If glandular tumors or organ failure is responsible, a person might experience chronic fatigue, fever, and gastrointestinal problems.
Breast cancer is very rare in men, but when cancerous tumors do exist they can cause additional gynecomastia symptoms. A hard lump may be felt underneath the layers of softer fatty tissue behind one of the nipples. In addition, thick, bloody discharge may seep from the nipple as a tumor grows. It is essential to visit a physician at the first signs of possible breast cancer so that treatment can be administered right away.
When an adult patient shows signs of gynecomastia, a doctor usually performs a number of diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause. The doctor usually first conducts a physical exam and asks about any prescription medication and recreational drug use. X-rays and other imaging scans are performed to check for signs of tumors in the breast tissue or elsewhere in the body. In addition, blood tests can confirm hormonal imbalances.
Patients who have gynecomastia may need hormonal replacement therapy to restore regular hormone levels in the body. Testosterone injections or supplements are often very effective at reducing symptoms within a few weeks or months. If tumors are detected, a combination of surgery and radiation may be needed. When the causes are accurately identified and treated, most men are able to recover from the condition.