Gynecomastia: What is it?

Gynecomastia is the medical name given to the benign enlargement of breast area tissue cells in male humans. This condition is generally triggered by a disproportion of the hormones testosterone and estrogen. Gynecomastia may impact both or just one breast (unilateral or bilateral). It can be permanent, developing over the years, or temporary. There is a high incidence of Gynecomastia in teenagers. In fact, according to recent research, about 50% of teenagers between the ages of 12-18 suffer from this condition.

Pseudogynecomastia. What’s the difference?

When a hormonal imbalance does not produce men breast enlargement, we speak of pseudogynecomastia. In such cases, male breasts are mainly composed of fatty tissue. Most reported cases of male breast enlargement are really cases of pseudogynecomastia. In previous decades, physicians used to make a clear difference between both conditions based on the following criteria: if the patient presented an enlargement of gland tissue, the case was diagnosed as gynecomastia, whereas if the surplus tissue was considered extra fat, it was treated as pseudogynecomastia. Nowadays, however, medical criteria have somewhat changed. Since there is no way to efficiently determine the nature of the enlarged tissue, i.e., whether it is mammary gland or fat, many general practitioners have difficulty in addressing the condition.

Consequently, many times, physicians dismiss the case as pseudogynecomastia as if it were a minor issue. A regular physical exam, performed by any sound professional, may be misleading at times and the difference between gynecomastia and pseudogynecomastia can be very hard to pinpoint. This is so because it is very difficult to predict what percentage of the surplus tissue is gland or fat. Furthermore, in most cases, this will be unknown data until the surgical procedure is done. So the prevailing principle these days is: any extra tissue in male breasts is regarded as gynecomastia regardless of the reason. Whether this tissue stems from fat, gland or simply skin, diagnose is the same. Anyway, neither condition should be confused with the muscle hypertrophy of the pectoral muscles.

Not Only a Physical Challenge

Patients who suffer from this condition are largely worried about it. This concern, in most cases, is not related directly to a health issue. Both gynecomastia and pseudogynecomastia are responsible for great stress and unhappiness among patients who suffer from them. Socially unacceptable, male breasts or “moobs” as they are informally referred to, can lead to further psychological conditions such as depression, phobia and the general feeling of low self-esteem and social exclusion. In young patients, it is frequently associated with devastating social and emotional trauma. Some families report young patients undergoing strict diets or strenuous physical programs as a response to this condition.

Three Major Causes

There are a few major causes of these conditions. Let’s analyze them in further detail:

• Genetics: In some men, there is a genetic, hormonal imbalance which leads to an abnormal enlargement of the gland. In other cases, gynecomastia occurs as part of a condition known as Klinefelter's disease. This genetic disease which affects 1 in 500 males features unusual breast enlargement as one of its symptoms.

In most cases, boys suffering from this syndrome, have a normal physical appearance until they reach puberty. It can present itself at an early stage or develop in later stages in life. Part of the treatment for Klinefelter's involves regular injections of testosterone and oversized breasts are usually reduced surgically.

• Drugs and Medication: Certain drugs have side effects associated with breast tissue enlargement. Some of these drugs are cimetidine, clonazepam, certain antidepressants and the like. Also, modern research shows that the use of bodybuilding drugs and steroids can also produce a hormonal imbalance resulting in the abnormal enlargement of breast tissue. Doctors classify this cause as non-physiological gynecomastia.

Whatever the physiology and causes leading to these conditions, and contrary to general belief, both pseudo and gynecomastia affect a high percentage of the male population.

Author's Bio: 

I have 10 years experience as a professional writer, editor and copy editor and love the written word. She loves to write content on various topics like health and fitness, parenting and kids, food, beauty, technology, etc.