Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
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Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

(BPH; Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy; Prostatism; Bladder Outlet Obstruction)

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Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is an enlargement of the prostate. The growth is not due to cancer.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located at the neck of the bladder. It surrounds the urethra. The gland is part of the male reproductive system.

Prostate and Urethra

Anatomy of the Prostate Gland

© 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.


The exact cause of BPH is unknown. It may be related to changes in hormone levels as men age. Eventually, the prostate becomes so enlarged that it puts pressure on the urethra. This causes the urethra to narrow or close completely.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

The main risk factor for BPH is being over 50 years old. By age 60, 50% of all men will have some sign of BPH.


Narrowing of the urethra caused by growth of the prostate causes the symptoms of BPH. Symptoms usually increase in severity over time.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty starting to urinate
  • Weak urination stream
  • Dribbling at end of urination
  • Sensation of incomplete bladder emptying
  • Urge to urinate frequently, especially at night
  • Deep discomfort in lower abdomen
  • Urge incontinence


BPH diagnosis is based on:

  • Your age
  • Symptoms
  • Digital rectal exam—the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to examine the area

Other tests may include:

  • Urine flow study
  • Cystometrogram (a functional study of the way your bladder fills and empties)
  • X-ray of the urinary tract
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Post-void residual volume test—measures whether you can empty your bladder completely
  • Cystoscopy —this test allows a doctor to look inside the urethra and bladder

Testing for prostate specific antigen (PSA) is often used to screen for prostate cancer. However BPH may cause a lesser elevation in PSA levels . This can raise false concerns about the presence of cancer.


Treatment is not needed for mild cases. Most men with BPH eventually request medical intervention.

Treatments include:


Medications include:

  • Enzyme inhibitors ( 5-alpha reductase)
    • Finasteride (proscar)—inhibits the production of the specific form of testosterone, which is responsible for prostate glandular growth (in some men, finasteride can shrink the prostate)
    • Dutasteride (avodart)—inhibits the production of the specific form of testosterone, which is responsible for prostate glandular growth (can result in shrinking of the prostate)
  • Alpha-blockers ( flomax , uroxatral , cardura , terazosin )—reduce bladder obstruction and improve urine flow by relaxing the muscles of the prostate and bladder neck

Both of groups of medications have different side effects:

Enzyme inhibitors may cause decreased sexual desire and problems with erection. The alpha-blockers may cause decreased blood pressure, dizziness, and stuffy nose. At times they are combined together.

Men with BPH should not take decongestant drugs containing alpha-agonists such as pseudoephedrine . These drugs can worsen the symptoms of BPH.

Minimally Invasive Interventions

These are used when drugs are ineffective, but the patient is not ready for surgery. Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT)—uses microwaves to destroy excess prostate tissue
  • Transurethral needle ablation (TUNA)—uses low levels of radio frequency energy to burn away portions of the enlarged prostate
  • Transurethral laser therapy—uses highly focused laser energy to remove prostate tissue


Surgical procedures include:

  • Transurethral surgical resection of the prostate (TURP) —a scope is inserted through the penis to remove the enlarged portion of the prostate
  • Transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP)—small cuts are made in the neck of the bladder to widen the urethra, long-term effectiveness of is not yet clearly established
  • Open surgery—removal of the enlarged portion of the prostate through an incision, usually in the lower abdominal area, much more invasive then TURP or TUIP
  • Prostatic stents—tiny metal coils that are inserted into urethra to widen it and keep it open
    • Usually used for men who do not wish to take medication or have surgery
    • Do not appear to be a good long-term option

Alternative Treatments

Three different herbal products are used for BPH:

None of them is approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Research regarding its effectiveness and safety is limited. The results are often conflicting. This may be due to variability of the products and difficulty in conducting these types of studies.


Prostate enlargement occurs naturally with age. There are no specific prevention steps.


National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Clearinghouse

The Prostate Institute


Canadian Urological Association

Prostate Centre


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Clinical Guidelines. American Urological Association. Available at: . Accessed June 30,2008.

Fagelman E, Lowe FC. Saw palmetto berry as a treatment for BPH. Rev Urol . 2001 Summer;3(3):134-8.

Fried NM. New laser treatment approaches for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Curr Urol Rep . 2007 Jan;8(1):47-52.

Marberger M. Drug insight: 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors for the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia. Nat Clin Pract Urol . 2006 Sep;3(9):495-503.

Prostate enlargement: Benign prostatic hyperplasia. National Kidney Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: . Accessed June 30, 2008.

Ulbricht C, Basch E, Bent S, et al. Evidence-based systematic review of saw palmetto by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration. J Soc Integr Oncol . 2006 Fall;4(4):170-86.

Last reviewed March 2008 by Marcin Chwistek, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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