Benign prostate enlargement (BPE) is a condition that affects men particularly over 50 years of age.
What is the prostate gland?
The prostate is a small gland found only in men, located in the pelvis, between the penis and bladder. It's involved in the production of semen.
The prostate produces a thick, white fluid that's made into a thinner liquid by a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The liquid is then mixed with sperm, produced by the testicles, to create semen.
If the prostate becomes enlarged, it can place pressure on the bladder and urethra (the tube through which urine passes). This can affect how you pass urine and may cause:
- difficulty starting urination
- a frequent need to urinate
- difficulty fully emptying the bladder
In some men, the symptoms are mild and don't require treatment. In others, the symptoms can be very troublesome and have a major impact on a person's quality of life.
What causes benign prostate enlargement?
The exact cause of prostate enlargement is unknown, but most experts agree that it's linked to hormonal changes that occur as a man gets older.
How is benign prostate enlargement diagnosed?
If your GP suspects that you have an enlarged prostate, you'll be asked to complete a questionnaire to assess your symptoms.
Your GP will also want to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms to prostate enlargement.
You may have a number of standard tests, such as urine tests, plus some more specific tests, such as a blood test that measures PSA.
Treating benign prostate enlargement
Treatment for an enlarged prostate is determined by the severity of your symptoms.
If you have mild to moderate symptoms, you won't receive any immediate medical treatment, but you'll have regular check-ups to carefully monitor your prostate.
As well as lifestyle changes, for moderate to severe cases medication can be used which block the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone on the prostate gland which can reduce the size and relieve symptoms. Other types of medication that relax the muscles of the bladder making it easier to pass urine may be used.
Surgery is usually only recommended for moderate to severe symptoms of benign prostate enlargement that have failed to respond to medication.
Complications of benign prostate enlargement
Benign prostate enlargement can sometimes lead to complications such as a urinary tract infection or acute urinary retention. Serious complications are rare.