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Understanding benign prostatic hyperplasia

An older man and woman walk hand-in-hand

An enlarged prostate can cause uncomfortable symptoms. Treatments range from watchfulness to surgery.

Most men will develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) if they live long enough.

BPH is a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate gland. It almost never makes its appearance before age 40, but it becomes increasingly common with age. BPH affects about half of all men between the ages of 51 and 60 and up to 90% of men older than 80, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) reports.

Given its prevalence, it's good to know that BPH is treatable. And some men will never experience symptoms even if the prostate gland is enlarged.

A prostate profile

The prostate gland is a part of the male reproductive system. One of its main roles is to produce semen, the fluid that carries sperm out of the penis during ejaculation.

Weighing in at about an ounce, the prostate is the approximate size and shape of a walnut. The gland wraps around the urethra, which carries urine from the bladder out of the body.

Because of its location, this small gland can have a powerful effect on a man's ability to urinate normally. BPH can cause the prostate to become large enough to squeeze the urethra and block the passage of urine.

Scientists don't yet know what causes the gland to become enlarged. But some research suggests that it may occur because cell growth in the gland increases with hormonal changes in the aging body.

BPH does not occur in men whose testicles were removed before puberty, according to the NIDDK.

What to watch for

According to the Urology Care Foundation, BPH can cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • A weak urine stream.
  • Difficulty starting and interrupting urination.
  • Difficulty postponing urination.
  • Leaking or dribbling urine.
  • Frequent urination, especially at night.

You need to see a doctor if you have pain or burning when you urinate, see blood in your urine or can't urinate. These could be signs of BPH, or they could be caused by another problem, such as cancer.

Diagnosis and treatment

You may notice symptoms of BPH yourself, or a doctor may find that your prostate is enlarged during a checkup. The doctor may refer you to a urologist for testing to confirm that you have BPH.

Treatment for BPH could be as simple as taking medicine to relieve symptoms, or you may need surgery to remove obstructing prostate tissue.

But since symptoms of BPH sometimes go away on their own, your doctor may suggest that you wait before starting treatment. In that case, regular checkups are recommended to make sure the condition doesn't get worse.

Reviewed 12/7/2023

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