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What is adolescent gynecomastia?

Adolescent gynecomastia is a common condition where the tissue under a young man’s nipples starts to grow and can look like small breasts. Gynecomastia happens during the early years of puberty and usually goes away within a few months to a year.

What causes adolescent gynecomastia?

Adolescent gynecomastia is caused by a change in the balance of hormones (natural chemicals in your body) during puberty. It happens to most boys between the ages of 12 and 14 years old when their bodies are changing. Gynecomastia can also be caused by using drugs such as marijuana. Very rarely, gynecomastia can be caused by a tumor or a serious disease of the liver or kidneys.

Gynecomastia is not caused by breast cancer.

How do you know if you have it?

Gynecomastia feels like a small, rubbery lump under the nipple(s). It can happen on one or both sides and the lump may feel sore. Many people confuse gynecomastia with ordinary fat tissue, especially if a young man is very overweight. If you think that you have gynecomastia, ask your health care provider or school nurse to check it out.

Can adolescent gynecomastia be treated?

Adolescent gynecomastia is normally not treated with medications or surgery because it goes away on its own, but it may take some time. Occasionally, if gynecomastia is still a problem when a young man has finished puberty at 17 or 18, then surgery may be an option to consider. Boys who are overweight often have extra fat tissue under and around the nipple. Getting to a healthy weight is important before considering surgery.

What do I do if I have it?

If you have adolescent gynecomastia, you’re not alone. One third to one half of all young men will have it during puberty. Some people can feel embarrassed or depressed about the way they look, but there are ways to take your mind off of it:

  • Wear layers or a thick t-shirt under your normal clothes. Sweatshirts are a good option. Keep a t-shirt on when you swim, wear one with a logo across the chest.
  • Keep a healthy weight. If you are overweight, learn about nutrition and exercise to lose weight.
  • Try weight lifting exercises to develop the muscles in your arms, back, and chest, including your pectoral muscles. This may help balance the shape of your upper body.

If people ask about how you look, be matter-of-fact. Tell them gynecomastia happens to a lot of guys and will probably be gone in a few months.

If the problem continues to be a source of stress in your life, talk to someone — your doctor, your parents, a guidance counselor. Talking about it will probably make you feel a lot better and can help you build a support network so that you don’t have to deal with this somewhat uncomfortable issue alone.