Gynecomastia, the swelling of male breasts: Quite common and always stressful

Gynecomastia, or male breast swelling, is more common than most people think. Though not a health risk, it is an embarrassing and emotionally stressful condition. Photo: Beatrice Murch

CHICAGO August 29, 2012 — For most of us, undergoing physical changes that leave us with attributes belonging to the opposite sex is uncomfortable. For example, women are horrified if they suddenly sprout dark, excess facial hair having the circumference of young redwood trees.  

Men are also susceptible to gender horror should they discover their breast tissue is swelling. Though not a serious health risk, it can cause significant mental and emotional discomfort. Medical tests are needed to determine if the swelling is a result of gynecomastia, or another disorder. 

Gynecomastia is an imbalance of testosterone and estrogen. If there is a reduction in the male body’s production of testosterone or a rise in estrogen levels, breast swelling can occur. Should anyone need a reminder, estrogen, and testosterone are the hormones controlling human sexual traits; each gender produces both. 

Signs of gynecomastia are breast swelling, tenderness, pain, and discharge from one, or both nipples. 

Infants, Early Adolescence, Aging Men 

The presence of a mom-to-be’s estrogen during pregnancy may cause gynecomastia in infants. This is evident in over half of unsuspecting newborn males, but they will never be wise to it unless a parent someday tells them. Two to three weeks post-birth, the swelling usually disappears. Although, it may reappear during puberty.

As if puberty isn’t difficult enough, it is not uncommon for young men to experience gynecomastia. It typically goes away six months to two years after it begins, without medication or other treatment. That must seem like forever to a young man, but it will likely be at least 40 years before the condition shows up again, and it may never return. 

Gynecomastia can occur any time in a man’s life but after fifty the likelihood is greater. One in four men, aged 50 to 80, have this condition. This is sometimes because of normal life-stage hormonal fluctuations.  

Illness, Products, and Oils 

Any illness that disrupts a man’s hormone balance can also trigger breast swelling. Tumors, hyperthyroidism, kidney and liver failure, malnutrition, and hypogonadism are examples. Though steroid use is not necessarily a medical issue, it too can cause male breast enlargement. Alcohol, some medications, and street drugs may trigger swelling as well.

There are several toiletries and plant oils that stimulate human estrogen production; some soaps, lotions, shampoos, lavender and tea tree oils. The effect on estrogen activity is weak and would likely have no noticeable effect on men with well-balanced hormones. 

(To be on the safe side, maybe all the thousands of men who put lavender oil in their bath water should cut it out.)


Unless the swelling is due to a medical condition, gynecomastia often diminishes without treatment over the span of two years, approximately. While that seems maddeningly slow, allowing it to go away without intervention is usually recommended. 

Medications and surgery are used to help men, including young men, whose breast swelling does not resolve over time, or those who have tenderness, pain, or psychological stress severe enough to disrupt everyday functioning.

Surgical options are liposuction to remove breast fat, or a mastectomy to remove the gland tissue. Both surgeries can be done via endoscopy, which requires small incisions and a shorter recovery period than invasive procedures. 


Some men and boys have enlarged breasts because of accumulated chest fat. This is often called gynecomastia, though technically it is not. However, the embarrassment and other psychological issues are no less painful for those with pseudo-gynecomastia. Liposuction may be recommended to remove the troublesome fat. 

The situation is mentally and emotionally stressful whether suffering from the real illness or the impersonation. Either can interfere with an amorous man’s confidence, and boys are sometimes teased mercilessly by their peers.

Men may benefit by seeing a therapist, not only for support but to find ways of effectively communicating their experience with friends and family. Immediate family and friends are often very supportive, but it is always a relief to talk with others who are dealing with the same problem. Support groups for this condition are listed on some gynecomastia websites.


Learn much more about about gynecomastia treatment procedures at the Plastic Surgery and Laser Center of San Francisco.

Resource: Mayo Clinic, at


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Jacqueline Marshall

Jacqueline Marshall is a writer for Help For Depression, and freelances primarily in the areas of psychology and personal development. She has a MA in Counseling Psychology and is a licensed therapist living near Chicago.

Jacqueline has experience helping those diagnosed with severe, persistent mental illness, and in providing general therapy services for individuals, couples, and families. Prior to counseling, she worked in graphic design and music education.

When not writing or counseling, Jacqueline enjoys reading literature and math-less books about quantum physics. She is a published poet, and has studied animal communication and energy healing.  


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