When I was in medical school, I would come home and tell my husband about various conditions I learned about that day. He quickly developed a rotating list of his “top three greatest fears.” Gynecomastia was a regular in the top three.
Gynecomastia is a benign increase in the size of male breast tissue; man boobs, if you will. It’s one of those things that no boy wants to talk about, but it’s actually pretty common, and it causes a lot of stress. In pediatrics, it happens at two different times in a boy’s life. First, it happens at birth. Most newborn males have some firm tissue under the nipples. This is a result of circulating maternal hormones. It typically resolves within a few months and causes no long-term problems. The second time is in adolescence. In fact, up to 70% of adolescent boys will experience some gynecomastia. The reason is also related to the hormones (but those from puberty). It typically takes 6 months to two years to resolve. It is more common in overweight boys. Fat makes estrogen. If you have too much estrogen, you’ll get more breast tissue. The development of gynecomastia may be a good motivator in helping your son, if he is overweight, lose a few pounds. The tissue with gynecomastia will feel rubbery or firm. There is no treatment for it, just reassure your son that it is normal and will go away with time.
Of note, certain medications (e.g., steroids, seizure medications) and some medical conditions (like Klinefelter syndrome) can cause gynecomastia. So, if your son is taking medications or has other associated symptoms, talk with your doctor about it.
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