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Male Breast Reduction Overview

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When a young woman starts to develop breasts, it is a wonderful thing. When a young man develops them, it is a nightmare. But gynecomastia, or the development of breasts or breast tissue in a man, also known as "man boobs" is a common problem.

All men have at least a small amount of mammary gland tissue beneath their nipples. This tissue is usually small and inconsequential. However, in gynecomastia, this breast tissue starts to enlarge. Breasts that develop on a man can be made up of mammary gland (breast) tissue, fat or, most commonly, a combination of both. For some overweight men, where the breasts consist only of fat, the condition is sometimes called pseudogynecomastia or lipomastia.

The name pretty much says it all; gynecomastia comes from the Greek words for woman and breast and sounds less like a bad joke than male boobs. It is a relatively common condition, and can affect up to 38% of boys between the ages of 10 and 16. Physically, it is a benign condition. When breast tissue starts to develop, it may be sore or tender, but this is the only physical discomfort associated with the problem. However, men who have gynecomastia are at greater risk for developing breast cancer.

That describes the physical problem, but it does not come near to describing the psychological effects that gynecomastia can have on a man. Having female-looking breasts when you are not female can be a source of shame and embarrassment. We live in a society that prizes masculinity in men. Simply taking off a shirt on the beach or undressing in a locker room can be devastating for a man if he has been the butt of jokes or feels that his chest is anything less than manly-looking. He may stop playing sports and cut himself off from many social situations.

In many cases, breasts develop on a boy as he goes through puberty, which is a difficult and emotionally sensitive time under the best of circumstances. Breast development can also occur on only one side and not the other. A boy going through puberty is already coping with a changing body and moving into a new sense of himself. If he is singled out, picked on or bullied (or fears that he will be) because he has breasts, his self-esteem and confidence can suffer enormously. Grown men who develop breast tissue or man boobs later in life can be at less psychological risk because they have already developed their self-image and feel that their masculinity has been established.

Luckily, there are cosmetic surgery procedures that can help remove breast tissue and fat on the upper chest and get rid of man boobs safely and effectively. Male breast reduction can remove breast tissue and create a masculine and well-contoured chest.

What Causes Gynecomastia?

Breast tissue can develop on a man for many different reasons. Gynecomastia can happen just after birth, at puberty, or with age. It is usually caused by an imbalance in the two sex hormones, estrogen and testosterone. Men and women have both estrogen and testosterone naturally in different amounts in their bodies.

Hormonal imbalances can be caused by conditions ranging from pituitary problems to liver disease. Any man who develops gynecomastia or man boobs must be evaluated to determine if there is an underlying cause, and have that cause treated, if possible. Frequently, correcting the underlying problem can reverse the breast development. However, many cases of gynecomastia are called idiopathic, which means there is no known cause.

Medications cause many cases of gynecomastia in adult men. Some performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids and androstenedione can cause development of breasts. Other drugs that have been linked to gynecomastia include cimetidine, ACE-inhibitors and some psychiatric drugs. Excessive use of alcohol and marijuana can also cause development of breasts.

Another common cause of gynecomastia is obesity. Obesity can cause both pseudogynecomastia, where the excess fat looks like breasts or male boobs, and true gynecomastia, where breast tissue has developed. Obesity increases estrogen levels, which in turn causes the breasts to develop. Losing weight can help solve the problem of pseudogynecomastia, and may help reduce any hormonal imbalance due to excess fat, allowing the breasts to regress.

But the bulk of cases of gynecomastia occur during puberty. Many young men going through puberty develop man boobs. Frequently the condition is temporary and, as the hormonal changes of puberty settle down, the breast tissue goes away.

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Male Breast Reduction Surgery as Gynecomastia Treatment

Liposuction is a surgical procedure in which a narrow tube called a cannula is inserted through short incisions and is used to break up the fat under the skin. The fat and tissue is then sucked out through the tube using a vacuum device. Go to male liposuction for more information about the procedure.

Reduction mammoplasty is a procedure in which breast tissue is removed surgically. Usually, the mammoplasty incisions used for gynecomastia are around the nipple or under the armpit. The surgeon then removes the breast tissue and closes up the incisions, which are usually unnoticeable after they heal completely.

After the male breast reduction surgery, you will need to wear a compression garment to compress your chest. This elastic vest-like garment will help minimize swelling and promote healing. In some cases, the surgeon may insert a plastic tube in the treated area to allow it to drain for a few days. This drain is removed a few days after surgery.

Although gynecomastia can have serious mental health consequences, most health insurers view it as a strictly cosmetic problem and will not cover male breast reduction surgery. However, it is a good idea to contact your insurer or have your surgeon or physician contact them to ask if coverage is possible. If you are covered, get the pre-authorization for the surgery in writing. If your insurer turns you down, you can arrange financing for the procedure.

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Am I a Candidate for Male Breast Reduction?

Almost 20,000 men underwent male breast reduction surgery in 2006, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. This is about the same number that had the surgery in 2000.

Correction of gynecomastia is surgery, and you should give it serious thought before undergoing the procedure. You must be in good overall health. If you have diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure, just to give some examples, they should be under control before you have the procedure. Your mental health is also important. You should be in good mental and emotional balance since undergoing any surgery can be trying. Some men go through a period of depression after any surgery, and this can worsen any pre-existing mental condition.

If you are seriously overweight, it may be best to put off having surgery until you have lost weight. The size of your breasts will usually shrink after you lose weight and may make surgery unnecessary or reduce the extent of the surgical procedure.

Breast reduction for men is usually performed on an outpatient basis, either in a surgeons office, a freestanding surgical clinic or in a hospital. It can be combined with other cosmetic surgery, such as liposuction of the abdomen and waist. You will need someone to drive you home after your surgery.

The procedure it'self usually takes about an hour and a half. Most surgeons perform male breast reduction using general anesthesia, where you sleep through the procedure, or local anesthesia with a sedative. You will be awake, but will be very relaxed.

You will be sore and bruised for a few days after the surgery. Your surgeon will tell you when you can return to work or school, but some men who have undergone male breast reduction have returned to work within a few days of their surgery. Scars will look very prominent for some time, but then will fade.

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