“Man boobs” is a common phrase for a medical condition that occurs in males called gynecomastia. Gynecomastia is the development of abnormally large breasts in boys and men. It most often occurs in infancy, puberty, or the elderly as a result of changes in hormone levels, but can occur in males at any age due to a variety of causes. Most cases of adult-onset gynecomastia are of unknown cause, but a thorough examination by a medical doctor should be performed to ensure that there is not an underlying medical problem causing the breast enlargement.
Most cases of gynecomastia occur in puberty, most likely due to changes in hormone levels, and will usually resolve within a year or two without any medical treatment. When gynecomastia occurs in adult males, the cause could be attributed to one of the following: a side effect from the use of certain medications, anabolic steroid abuse, excessive weight gain, chronic liver disease, a genetic disorder, exposure to estrogen, a testosterone deficiency, testicular tumors, aging, or marijuana use. Treatment for gynecomastia begins with determining and correcting the cause, but the breast enlargement that has already developed does not always reside without the intervention of medication or corrective surgery.
The growing trend of obesity is a major cause of an accumulation of chest fat and the subsequent appearance of man boobs. When men gain weight, fat accumulates all over the body including the chest giving the appearance of enlarged breasts. This accumulation of chest fat is called pseudogynecomastia, as the appearance of breasts is due to chest fat alone. However, when men gain an excessive amount of weight, excessive fat stores develop and produce estrogen in men which stimulates the growth of true breast tissue. Man boobs resulting from chest fat alone can subside with the loss of weight, but once true breast tissue develops weight loss alone usually will not resolve the problem.
When gynecomastia does not resolve with time, weight loss, or the correction of some medical condition, there are medications such as tamoxifen, an estrogen-blocker, which can be administered as hormone therapy. When breast tissue has been present for more than several years, it can become resistant to hormone therapy and may require surgical removal. Male breast reduction surgery is a procedure in which an incision is made to remove breast tissue. It is the most definitive treatment for persistent man boobs, but is expensive and is often not covered by insurance policies. When surgery is not possible for financial or personal reasons, there are vests and undershirts available that compress the chest area helping to reduce the appearance of man boobs.
The development of enlarged breasts, or moobs, in men can be a traumatic and anxiety-producing event. It should bring some comfort that the majority of cases do resolve on their own. For the remaining cases, most are benign and can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery. However undesired the condition may be to males, there seems to be a growing trend towards social acceptance of man boobs in society as awareness and education about this male phenomenon increases.