If a man is diagnosed with benign prostatic hyperplasia, understanding what is BPH can ease fears about prostate health and symptoms.
If you are a man diagnosed with an enlarged prostate, you’ve no doubt heard your doctor refer to the condition by its medical term, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). “Benign” indicates the condition isn’t cancerous, which is reassuring, and “hyperplasia” simply means an enlargement of an organ or tissue — in this case, the prostate gland.
But the medical term alone doesn’t answer these basic questions: What is BPH, exactly, and how does it develop?
To understand the answers, it makes sense to find out what the prostate gland is and what may cause it to enlarge, resulting in benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Prostate gland facts
The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It sits in front of the rectum and below the bladder and surrounds the urethra — a tube-like structure that carries urine from the bladder out through the penis.
The main function of the prostate is to make fluid for semen. When ejaculation occurs, sperm produced in the testicles moves to the urethra while, at the same time, fluid from the prostate also moves into the urethra. This mixture then travels through the urethra and out the penis.
Growth and size of the prostate
The prostate goes through two main stages of growth periods as you move from puberty to adulthood, according to the American Urological Association. The first stage occurs when the prostate gland doubles in size during early adolescence. Another stage of growth begins when a man is in his mid-twenties and continues during most of his life.
A normal prostate gland remains close to the size of a walnut, but it may get significantly larger over the years. When this occurs, you may develop symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia — and millions of men do.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia is the most common prostate problem for men who are 50 or older, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases points out. In fact, BPH affects about 50 percent of men between the ages of 51 and 60 and up to 90 percent of men older than 80.
Because BPH isn’t malignant, what is benign prostatic hyperplasia’s impact on health? As the prostate gland grows larger, it can press against the urethra, resulting in many of the urinary retention problems associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia.
However, the size of your prostate doesn’t always correlate directly with the severity of any symptoms, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Some men with greatly enlarged prostates have little urinary blockage and few symptoms. On the other hand, some men with only minimal benign prostatic hyperplasia may experience worrisome blockages and more symptoms.
The lower urinary tract is the site of most BPH symptoms, including urinary frequency and urgency, pain during or after ejaculation or urination, frequent urination at night, trouble starting a urine stream, and urinary retention or incontinence. About half of all men with benign prostatic hyperplasia experience these symptoms, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes.
Complications of benign prostatic hyperplasia can include acute urinary retention, an increased risk for urinary tract infections, and bladder and kidney damage. However, most men do not experience these problems from BPH.
Risks and prevention
Researchers studying benign prostatic hyperplasia have found that, along with being middle-aged or older, risk factors for the condition include a family history of BPH and chronic medical conditions, such as heart and circulatory disease. Obesity and type 2 diabetes, health problems that can often be prevented or improved with lifestyle changes, are also risk factors.
Early diagnosis typically occurs during regular checkups, especially in men over 50. If you describe symptoms of BPH, your doctor may order a urinalysis and PSA blood test.
While there is no proven way to prevent benign prostatic hyperplasia, losing weight if you need to, being physically active, and eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help prevent benign prostatic hyperplasia, according to Kevin McVary, MD, chair of the Division of Urology at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN