for National Geographic News
Summertime living is not easy for boys and men who suffer from gynecomastiaa surprisingly common condition in which males grow femalelike breasts.
For sufferers, bathing suit season can be a cause for dread.
"[My breasts] first showed up around the age of 11," said San Francisco-based psychotherapist Merle Yost. "It was kind of torturous by the time I got to junior high school. They just kept growing."
Yost is the author of Demystifying Gynecomastia: Men With Breasts, a new book meant to help others deal with a condition that, while physically benign, can be psychologically devastating.
Common Bane of Teen Boys
Gynecomastia, which means "woman breast," is commonly brought on by hormonal changes in adolescent boys that can result in increasing estrogens (female hormones) and decreasing testosterone (male hormone).
Norman P. Spack is clinical director of the division of endocrinology at Children's Hospital Boston in Massachusetts, and a specialist in adolescent hormone disorders.
"In the early phases of puberty the ratio of estrogen to androgen [male sex hormones] is relatively high," he says, "and about 60 percent of teenage boys get a tender enlargement of the breast glands that may be visible or may not be.
"It usually doesn't extend beyond the region of the areola [the dark area of the nipple]. In many cases [patients] think that people can see it and are embarrassed, but often other people can't see it."
In some cases, though, the results are all too visible and result in prominent femalelike features.
But adolescent gynecomastia generally reverses itself and fades with age. The condition disappears within three years in about 90 percent of pubescent sufferers with no treatment.
The remaining 10 percent are left with a lasting, difficult problem. The condition can also affect grown men later in life, such as elderly men going through hormonal changes.
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