Enlarged Prostate: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Enlarged Prostate: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention


The Prostate Gland


The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that forms part of the male reproductive system. The gland is made of two lobes, or regions, enclosed by an outer layer of tissue. As the diagrams show, the prostate is located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, where urine is stored. The prostate also surrounds the urethra, the canal through which urine passes out of the body.

Scientists do not know all the prostate's functions. One of its main roles, though, is to squeeze fluid into the urethra as sperm move through during sexual climax. This fluid, which helps make up semen, energizes the sperm and makes the vaginal canal less acidic.

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate): A Common Part of Aging


It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Doctors call this condition benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or benign prostatic hypertrophy.

As a man matures, the prostate goes through two main periods of growth. The first occurs early in puberty, when the prostate doubles in size. At around age 25, the gland begins to grow again. This second growth phase often results, years later, in BPH.

Though the prostate continues to grow during most of a man's life, the enlargement doesn't usually cause problems until late in life. BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their sixties and as many as 90 percent in their seventies and eighties have some symptoms of BPH.

As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose. The bladder wall becomes thicker and irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination. Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself. Urine remains in the bladder. The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder cause many of the problems associated with BPH.

Many people feel uncomfortable talking about the prostate, since the gland plays a role in both sex and urination. Still, prostate enlargement is as common a part of aging as gray hair. As life expectancy rises, so does the occurrence of BPH. In the United States alone, 375,000 hospital stays each year involve a diagnosis of BPH.

It is not clear whether certain groups face a greater risk of getting BPH. Studies done over the years suggest that BPH occurs more often among married men than single men and is more common in the United States and Europe than in other parts of the world. However, these findings have been debated, and no definite information on risk factors exists.

Why Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate) Occurs


The cause of BPH is not well understood. No definite information on risk factors exists. For centuries, it has been known that BPH occurs mainly in older men and that it doesn't develop in men whose testes were removed before puberty. For this reason, some researchers believe that factors related to aging and the testes may spur the development of BPH.

Throughout their lives, men produce both testosterone, an important male hormone, and small amounts of estrogen, a female hormone. As men age, the amount of active testosterone in the blood decreases, leaving a higher proportion of estrogen. Studies done on animals have suggested that BPH may occur because the higher amount of estrogen within the gland increases the activity of substances that promote cell growth.
Another theory focuses on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance derived from testosterone in the prostate, which may help control its growth. Most animals lose their ability to produce DHT as they age. 

However, some research has indicated that even with a drop in the blood's testosterone level, older men continue to produce and accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate. This accumulation of DHT may encourage the growth of cells. Scientists have also noted that men who do not produce DHT do not develop BPH.

Some researchers suggest that BPH may develop as a result of "instructions" given to cells early in life. According to this theory, BPH occurs because cells in one section of the gland follow these instructions and "reawaken" later in life. These "reawakened" cells then deliver signals to other cells in the gland, instructing them to grow or making them more sensitive to hormones that influence growth.

How common is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)? Are there any risk factors?


BPH is extremely common. Half of all men over 50 develop symptoms of BPH, but only 10% need medical or surgical intervention.

Does Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate) Increase Your Risk of Developing Prostate Cancer?


Based on research to date, the answer is no. However, BPH and prostate cancer have similar symptoms, and a man who has BPH may have undetected cancer at the same time.

To help detect prostate cancer in its early stages, the American Cancer Society advises annual screening starting at age 50 in men who have at least a 10-year life expectancy. They also say that for men who are at high risk, such as African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, screening should begin at about age 45. Men at an even higher risk, such as having several relatives with a history of prostate cancer at an early age, could begin testing at age 40.

The American Urological Association agrees that annual screening should begin at age 50 but encourages men in high risk groups, such as African-Americans or those with a family history, to begin screening at age 40 as opposed to 45. Tests used to screen for prostate cancer include a blood test for a substance called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and the digital rectal exam (DRE).

Symptoms of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


Many symptoms of BPH stem from obstruction of the urethra and gradual loss of bladder function, which results in incomplete emptying of the bladder. The symptoms of BPH vary, but the most common ones involve changes or problems with urination, such as
  • a hesitant, interrupted, weak stream
  • urgency and leaking or dribbling
  • more frequent urination, especially at night
The size of the prostate does not always determine how severe the obstruction or the symptoms will be. Some men with greatly enlarged glands have little obstruction and few symptoms while others, whose glands are less enlarged, have more blockage and greater problems.

Sometimes a man may not know he has any obstruction until he suddenly finds himself unable to urinate at all. This condition, called acute urinary retention, may be triggered by taking over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines. Such medicines contain a decongestant drug, known as a sympathomimetic. A potential side effect of this drug may prevent the bladder opening from relaxing and allowing urine to empty. When partial obstruction is present, urinary retention also can be brought on by alcohol, cold temperatures, or a long period of immobility.

It is important to tell your doctor about urinary problems such as those described above. In eight out of 10 cases, these symptoms suggest BPH, but they also can signal other, more serious conditions that require prompt treatment. These conditions, including prostate cancer, can be ruled out only by a doctor's examination.

Severe BPH can cause serious problems over time. Urine retention and strain on the bladder can lead to urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney damage, bladder stones, and incontinence-the inability to control urination. If the bladder is permanently damaged, treatment for BPH may be ineffective. When BPH is found in its earlier stages, there is a lower risk of developing such complications.

When to Contact a Medical Professional


Call your doctor right away if you have:
  • Less urine than usual
  • Fever or chills
  • Back, side, or abdominal pain
  • Blood or pus in your urine
Also call your doctor if:
  • Your bladder does not feel completely empty after you urinate
  • You take medications that may cause urinary problems, like diuretics, antihistamines, antidepressants, or sedatives. Do NOT stop or adjust your medications on your own without talking to your doctor
  • You have taken self-care measures for 2 months without relief

Diagnosis for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


You may first notice symptoms of BPH yourself, or your doctor may find that your prostate is enlarged during a routine checkup. When BPH is suspected, you may be referred to a urologist, a doctor who specializes in problems of the urinary tract and the male reproductive system. Several tests help the doctor identify the problem and decide whether surgery is needed. The tests vary from patient to patient, but the following are the most common.

Digital Rectal Exam (DRE)


This exam is usually the first test done. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels the part of the prostate next to the rectum. This exam gives the doctor a general idea of the size and condition of the gland.

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test


In order to rule out cancer as a cause of urinary symptoms, your doctor may recommend a PSA blood test. PSA, a protein produced by prostate cells, is frequently present at elevated levels in the blood of men who have prostate cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a PSA test for use in conjunction with a digital rectal exam to help detect prostate cancer in men age 50 or older and for monitoring prostate cancer patients after treatment. However, much remains unknown about the interpretation of PSA levels, the test's ability to discriminate cancer from benign prostate conditions, and the best course of action following a finding of elevated PSA.

Because many unanswered questions surround the issue of PSA screening, the relative magnitude of its potential risks and benefits is unknown. Both PSA and ultrasound tests enhance detection when added to DRE screening. But they are known to have relatively high false-positive rates, and they may identify a greater number of medically insignificant tumors. Thus, PSA screening might lead to treatment of unproven benefit that could result in morbidity (including impotence and incontinence) and mortality. It cannot be determined from earlier studies whether PSA screening will reduce prostate cancer mortality. Ongoing studies are addressing this issue.

Rectal Ultrasound


If there is a suspicion of prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend a test with rectal ultrasound. In this procedure, a probe inserted in the rectum directs sound waves at the prostate. The echo patterns of the sound waves form an image of the prostate gland on a display screen.

Urine Flow Study


Sometimes the doctor will ask a patient to urinate into a special device that measures how quickly the urine is flowing. A reduced flow often suggests BPH.

Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP)


IVP is an x ray of the urinary tract. In this test, a dye is injected into a vein, and the x ray is taken. The dye makes the urine visible on the x ray and shows any obstruction or blockage in the urinary tract.

Cystoscopy


In this exam, the doctor inserts a small tube through the opening of the urethra in the penis. This procedure is done after a solution numbs the inside of the penis so all sensation is lost. The tube, called a cystoscope, contains a lens and a light system, which help the doctor see the inside of the urethra and the bladder. This test allows the doctor to determine the size of the gland and identify the location and degree of the obstruction.

Treatment for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


Men who have BPH with symptoms usually need some kind of treatment at some time. However, a number of researchers have questioned the need for early treatment when the gland is just mildly enlarged. The results of their studies indicate that early treatment may not be needed because the symptoms of BPH clear up without treatment in as many as one-third of all mild cases. Instead of immediate treatment, they suggest regular checkups to watch for early problems. If the condition begins to pose a danger to the patient's health or causes a major inconvenience to him, treatment is usually recommended.

Since BPH can cause urinary tract infections, a doctor will usually clear up any infection with antibiotics before treating the BPH itself. Although the need for treatment is not usually urgent, doctors generally advise going ahead with treatment once the problems become bothersome or present a health risk.

The following section describes the types of treatment that are most commonly used for BPH.

Drug Treatment for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


Over the years, researchers have tried to find a way to shrink or at least stop the growth of the prostate without using surgery. The FDA has approved six drugs to relieve common symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate.

Finasteride (Proscar), FDA-approved in 1992, and dutasteride (Avodart), FDA-approved in 2001, inhibit production of the hormone DHT, which is involved with prostate enlargement. The use of either of these drugs can either prevent progression of growth of the prostate or actually shrink the prostate in some men.

The FDA also approved the drugs terazosin (Hytrin) in 1993, doxazosin (Cardura) in 1995, tamsulosin (Flomax) in 1997, and alfuzosin (Uroxatral) in 2003 for the treatment of BPH. All four drugs act by relaxing the smooth muscle of the prostate and bladder neck to improve urine flow and to reduce bladder outlet obstruction. The four drugs belong to the class known as alpha blockers. Terazosin and doxazosin were developed first to treat high blood pressure. Tamsulosin and alfuzosin were developed specifically to treat BPH.

The Medical Therapy of Prostatic Symptoms (MTOPS) Trial, supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), recently found that using finasteride and doxazosin together is more effective than using either drug alone to relieve symptoms and prevent BPH progression. The two-drug regimen reduced the risk of BPH progression by 67 percent, compared with 39 percent for doxazosin alone and 34 percent for finasteride alone.

Minimally Invasive Therapy


Because drug treatment is not effective in all cases, researchers in recent years have developed a number of procedures that relieve BPH symptoms but are less invasive than conventional surgery.

Transurethral microwave procedures

In 1996, the FDA approved a device that uses microwaves to heat and destroy excess prostate tissue. In the procedure called transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT), the device sends computer-regulated microwaves through a catheter to heat selected portions of the prostate to at least 111 degrees Fahrenheit. A cooling system protects the urinary tract during the procedure.

The procedure takes about 1 hour and can be performed on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia. TUMT has not been reported to lead to erectile dysfunction or incontinence.

Although microwave therapy does not cure BPH, it reduces urinary frequency, urgency, straining, and intermittent flow. It does not correct the problem of incomplete emptying of the bladder. Ongoing research will determine any long-term effects of microwave therapy and who might benefit most from this therapy.

Transurethral needle ablation

Also in 1996, the FDA approved the minimally invasive transurethral needle ablation (TUNA) system for the treatment of BPH.

The TUNA system delivers low-level radiofrequency energy through twin needles to burn away a well-defined region of the enlarged prostate. Shields protect the urethra from heat damage. The TUNA system improves urine flow and relieves symptoms with fewer side effects when compared with transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). No incontinence or impotence has been observed.

Water-induced thermotherapy

This therapy uses heated water to destroy excess tissue in the prostate. A catheter containing multiple shafts is positioned in the urethra so that a treatment balloon rests in the middle of the prostate. A computer controls the temperature of the water, which flows into the balloon and heats the surrounding prostate tissue. The system focuses the heat in a precise region of the prostate. Surrounding tissues in the urethra and bladder are protected. Destroyed tissue either escapes with urine through the urethra or is reabsorbed by the body.

High-intensity focused ultrasound

The use of ultrasound waves to destroy prostate tissue is still undergoing clinical trials in the United States. The FDA has not yet approved high-intensity focused ultrasound.

Surgical Treatment for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


Most doctors recommend removal of the enlarged part of the prostate as the best long-term solution for patients with BPH. With surgery for BPH, only the enlarged tissue that is pressing against the urethra is removed; the rest of the inside tissue and the outside capsule are left intact. Surgery usually relieves the obstruction and incomplete emptying caused by BPH. The following section describes the types of surgery that are used.

Transurethral surgery

In this type of surgery, no external incision is needed. After giving anesthesia, the surgeon reaches the prostate by inserting an instrument through the urethra.

A procedure called transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) is used for 90 percent of all prostate surgeries done for BPH. With TURP, an instrument called a resectoscope is inserted through the penis. The resectoscope, which is about 12 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, contains a light, valves for controlling irrigating fluid, and an electrical loop that cuts tissue and seals blood vessels.

During the 90-minute operation, the surgeon uses the resectoscope's wire loop to remove the obstructing tissue one piece at a time. The pieces of tissue are carried by the fluid into the bladder and then flushed out at the end of the operation.

Most doctors suggest using TURP whenever possible. Transurethral procedures are less traumatic than open forms of surgery and require a shorter recovery period. One possible side effect of TURP is retrograde, or backward, ejaculation. In this condition, semen flows backward into the bladder during climax instead of out the urethra.

Another surgical procedure is called transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP). Instead of removing tissue, as with TURP, this procedure widens the urethra by making a few small cuts in the bladder neck, where the urethra joins the bladder, and in the prostate gland itself. Although some people believe that TUIP gives the same relief as TURP with less risk of side effects such as retrograde ejaculation, its advantages and long-term side effects have not been clearly established.

Open surgery

In the few cases when a transurethral procedure cannot be used, open surgery, which requires an external incision, may be used. Open surgery is often done when the gland is greatly enlarged, when there are complicating factors, or when the bladder has been damaged and needs to be repaired. The location of the enlargement within the gland and the patient's general health help the surgeon decide which of the three open procedures to use.

With all the open procedures, anesthesia is given and an incision is made. Once the surgeon reaches the prostate capsule, he or she scoops out the enlarged tissue from inside the gland.

Laser surgery

In March 1996, the FDA approved a surgical procedure that employs side-firing laser fibers and Nd: YAG lasers to vaporize obstructing prostate tissue. The doctor passes the laser fiber through the urethra into the prostate using a cystoscope and then delivers several bursts of energy lasting 30 to 60 seconds. The laser energy destroys prostate tissue and causes shrinkage. As with TURP, laser surgery requires anesthesia and a hospital stay. One advantage of laser surgery over TURP is that laser surgery causes little blood loss. Laser surgery also allows for a quicker recovery time. But laser surgery may not be effective on larger prostates. The long-term effectiveness of laser surgery is not known.

Newer procedures that use laser technology can be performed on an outpatient basis.

Photoselective vaporization of the prostate (PVP)

PVP uses a high-energy laser to destroy prostate tissue and seal the treated area.

Interstitial laser coagulation

Unlike other laser procedures, interstitial laser coagulation places the tip of the fiberoptic probe directly into the prostate tissue to destroy it.

Possible Complications of Enlarged Prostate: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)


Men who have had long-standing BPH with a gradual increase in symptoms may develop:
  • Sudden inability to urinate
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Urinary stones
  • Damage to the kidneys
  • Blood in the urine
Even after surgical treatment, a recurrence of BPH may develop over time.

Prevention for Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH, Enlarged Prostate)


Although advanced age has always been thought of as the primary cause of BPH, the following modifiable factors are correlated with an increased risk of BPH development:

Obesity


Body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference exhibit a linear relationship with prostate volume (ie, the greater the weight, BMI, or waist circumference, the greater the prostate volume); thus, weight reduction may reduce the risk of developing BPH

According to the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, men with a waist circumference of more than 109 cm are 38% more likely than men with a normal waist circumference to undergo surgery for BPH and 100% more likely to complain of lower urinary tract symptoms

Decreased physical activity


The level of physical activity is inversely proportional to the risk of BPH and lower urinary tract symptoms

According to the Health Professionals Follow-Up study, men who walked 2 to 3 hours weekly had a 25% lower risk for BPH than those who did not

Diabetes


Based on a study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III, men with diabetes were 67% more likely to have lower urinary tract symptoms than men without diabetes; thus, diabetes control may reduce the risk of BPH