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Overview of gynaecomastia

Close-up of a man's chest showing gynaecomastiaGynaecomastia (sometimes called man boobs) is when a boy's or man's breasts get larger than is usual for males. It's quite common and happens most often in teenage boys and older men. It can happen in one or both of a man's breasts.

Causes of gynaecomastia

Hormone changes are the main cause of gynaecomastia. All men have estrogen as well as testosterone in their bodies. At times, these levels will vary and can lead to breast enlargement as an effect of the estrogen. This can happen during puberty, but doesn't usually cause a long-lasting change. For older men, having less testosterone means they are more likely to have breast changes.

Being overweight can also cause high estrogen levels, which can increase breast size. Losing weight can help with this.

Heavy use of alcohol and marijuana can cause gynaecomastia. If you're a heavy user of either of these substances, quitting may solve your gynaecomastia. If you need help doing this, talk to your doctor or use the resources on Alcohol and safe drinking and Alcohol & drug addiction.

Some medications can cause gynaecomastia. Check with your doctor if you're on regular medication.

Rarely, it's caused by other health conditions such as liver or kidney disease, or a genetic condition.

Treating gynaecomastia

Gynaecomastia can get better over time with no treatment, especially in teenage boys, or if it's the result of one of the changeable causes listed above.

For some men, surgery to reduce the size of male breasts by removing excess fat, glandular tissue or skin is an option. This can be for cosmetic or psychological reasons, or it can be to treat discomfort.

Smokers who have gynaecomastia surgery don't heal as well. Your surgeon will strongly encourage you to stop smoking and may not be prepared to proceed until you do. If you need help to stop smoking, use the resources on How to become smokefree.

It's important to have realistic expectations about what the surgery can do for you. The final result can lead to greater self-confidence, but it may not match the image of how you would like your chest to look.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2021.

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