Gynecomastia and Antidepressants


Image: Shutterstock/ Prasan Maksaen

There aren’t a lot of medications that are approved for treating fibromyalgia. That’s why the fact that some of the ones are are can cause serious side effects is so heartbreaking. Think about it, with a very limited number of options already available to treat the devastating pain of fibromyalgia, someone who suffers from side effects from these drugs find their options for relief limited even more. And gynecomastia is a fairly common side effect of some of the most often prescribed drugs for fibromyalgia: antidepressants.

Gynecomastia is a painful and embarrassing condition that affects a significant number of men who are prescribed antidepressants. But what causes gynecomastia? And what can you do to treat it?

What Causes Gynecomastia?

Gynecomastia is a condition that causes a swelling of the breast tissue in men. Typically, it’s caused by an imbalance of the hormones testosterone and estrogen. An abundance of estrogen triggers the fatty tissue within the breast to expand, making them swollen and often painful.

There are a number of reasons that someone might suffer from this imbalance of hormones. It’s quite common in pubescent boys as their hormones begin to adjust. And older men, whose bodies naturally begin to produce less testosterone, often suffer from gynecomastia as well.

But certain drugs that alter the balance of hormones in the body can artificially trigger gynecomastia. Antidepressants are one of the most common drugs that cause gynecomastia. Their role in altering the chemical composition of the brain seems to trigger the imbalance of testosterone and estrogen that leads to the condition.

That’s bad news for men who suffer from fibromyalgia of course. Antidepressants like Lyrica and Cymbalta are among the only drugs approved by the FDA for treating fibromyalgia. And if you suffer from fibromyalgia, odds are good that you’ll find yourself taking one or the other at some point. And that puts these men in a tough spot.

Obviously, the pain of fibromyalgia requires some form of medication. You simply cannot live with fibromyalgia otherwise. But men who suffer from gynecomastia as a result of their medication have to find some way to deal with the pain and embarrassment of this side effect in addition to dealing with their fibromyalgia. Obviously, having swollen breast tissue isn’t something most guys are happy about when they leave the house.

Luckily, there are a few different ways that gynecomastia can be treated.

How can you treat it?

To begin with, it may be worth asking your doctor if he can recommend another medication. Switching from one of the antidepressants prescribed for fibromyalgia to another may actually be enough to resolve your gynecomastia. And in addition, there are a number of other medications that, while not approved specifically for fibromyalgia, could be effective (Gabapentin for example.)

If that’s not an option, or if it doesn’t resolve your gynecomastia, there are a few other medications that might help treat your symptoms. Some medications approved to treat breast cancer could be effective for shrinking the breast tissue. It’s worth asking your doctor about these different medications and getting their opinion on if they may be useful for you.

There are also surgical options like liposuction (where the fatty tissue is actually mechanically sucked out) or mastectomy (where the tissue is removed completely.) Obviously, as with any surgery, you want to exhaust any of the less invasive options before turning to this option.

And simply maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise is known to be effective for resolving gynecomastia. Of course, exercising when you suffer from fibromyalgia is always a tricky proposition. If you can beat the chronic fatigue and pain that bar any attempt at getting active, you also have the risk of over-exertion leading to a flare up.

But the good news is that in addition to helping treat gynecomastia, exercise is one of the most effective ways to treat fibromyalgia symptoms. The key is to balance your exercise with your symptoms and not over do it. But just thirty minutes of low-impact exercise daily is usually enough to see significant improvement in your symptoms. If you’re interested in a list of low-impact exercises for people with fibromyalgia, you can find one here.

And keeping a healthy diet is also a vital part of treating gynecomastia as well as fibromyalgia. Being even slightly overweight has been shown to make both conditions much worse. Eat balanced meals and avoid refined sugars and carbs.

But let us know, do you suffer from gynecomastia and fibromyalgia? What works for you? What doesn’t? Tell us in the comments.