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Gynaecomastia

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Gynaecomastia is an increase in breast tissue in males.
  • It is caused by a hormone imbalance, medicines, or an underlying illness.
  • If you have pain or tenderness or a lump see your doctor to find out the cause.

What is gynaecomastia?

Gynaecomastia (gynecomastia) is a swelling of the breast tissue in males. It’s also called ‘man-boobs’. It usually affects both breasts but can be one-sided.

Gynaecomastia is very common. More than half of all young males develop the condition during puberty. It normally disappears as you grow older.

As many as 2 out of 3 males aged over 50 years may have the condition.

What are the symptoms of gynaecomastia?

As well as breast tissue growth, you may have breast pain or tenderness. You may feel embarrassed about how your chest looks.

Some people have no symptoms other than breast tissue growth.

Gynaecomastia is different from enlarged breasts caused by extra fat tissue from being overweight.

Gynaecomastia is different from male breast cancer, which is usually:

  • just on one side
  • not always around the nipple
  • feels hard or firm

Usually gynaecomastia is not serious, but it’s important to see your doctor to find out the cause.

Illustration showing the difference between gynaecomastia (left) and a normal male chest (right).
Illustration showing the difference between gynaecomastia (left) and a normal male chest (right).

What causes gynaecomastia?

Gynaecomastia is caused by an imbalance between the hormones oestrogen and testosterone.

This imbalance often occurs naturally in:

  • infants — aged 0 to 3 weeks
  • puberty — aged 10 to 17 years
  • older men — it becomes more common after 50 years

Gynaecomastia can also be caused by:

  • medicines that affect your hormones
  • some genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome
  • some dietary supplements and complementary or alternative medicines
  • obesity or poor nutrition
  • alcohol overuse
  • kidney or liver disease
  • hyperthyroidism
  • tumours in your testicles or adrenal glands

In about 1 in 4 people the cause of gynaecomastia is not known.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are worried about enlarged male breasts, the first step is to talk to your doctor.

It’s important to see your doctor if you have:

  • breast swelling
  • breast pain or tenderness
  • a nipple discharge from one or both breasts
  • a breast lump

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How is gynaecomastia diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and ask about your symptoms and any medicines that you take.

They may arrange a blood test.

A few people may need a scan or biopsy. Scans can include a CT or an ultrasound.

A biopsy is when a small sample of tissue from the breast is taken. These tests will help to rule out male breast cancer.

How is gynaecomastia treated?

Treatment for gynaecomastia will depend on your personal situation.

Babies and adolescents will usually grow out of the hormonal imbalance that causes gynaecomastia.

If your doctor knows the cause of your gynaecomastia they may suggest you make changes to make your gynaecomastia go away.

These changes can include:

  • lifestyle changes
  • changing medicines
  • treating an underlying disease

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to reduce your pain and improve the look of your chest.

Wearing a tight top underneath your shirt can help make your enlarged breasts less obvious.

If you don’t respond to the medicines, your doctor may recommend gynaecomastia surgery.

Can gynaecomastia be prevented?

For some people eating a healthy diet should reduce the development of gynaecomastia.

Complications of gynaecomastia

You may feel embarrassed, upset or anxious about how your chest looks and feels. It can help to talk to your family, friends, or partner. You can also ask to see a psychologist or counsellor.

Gynaecomastia doesn’t increase the risk of breast cancer in males.

Resources and Support

The Healthy Male site has more information on gynaecomastia.

To find a plastic surgeon, visit the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons website.

If you want to know more about gynaecomastia or need advice on what to do next, you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2023


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