The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut. It sits below the bladder and is partially wrapped around the urethra, the tube which allows urine to pass from the bladder to the penis.
The prostate’s job is to produce and store prostatic fluid, one of the components of semen.
During puberty the prostate grows significantly, but then remains relatively stable until around 40 years of age, when it begins growing again. From this point, though the growth is very slow, it doesn’t stop growing for the rest of a man’s life.
It is this continuous growing, combined with the crucial location of the prostate that can lead to the problems associated with what is commonly termed an enlarged prostate.
What is an Enlarged Prostate?
If you imagine a ring donut gradually swelling around a garden hose you’ll have a reasonable picture of the mechanics involved.
An “enlarged prostate” is simply the point at which a process, entirely natural in men (i.e. the continuous growing of the prostate gland), reaches a point where it causes identifiable and bothersome symptoms.
Also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), an enlarged prostate is a condition exhibiting symptoms in 50% of men in their sixties and 90% of men age 80 and above.
Of itself BPH is not a serious condition. However, the problems it can cause may, if left untreated, negatively affect a man’s health and wellbeing.
The Impact of an Enlarged Prostate
As the prostate grows larger it begins to squeeze the urethra. If it squeezes too much, the flow of urine will be impeded. This can lead to discomfort during urination.
If the condition progresses further, the discomfort may become severe enough to interfere with sleep and routine activities. Beyond this, in rare cases, an enlarged prostate can result in bladder stones, incontinence, kidney infections and damage to the urethra, bladder and kidneys.
It should be noted, though, that BPH is not a cancerous condition and has not been linked with prostate cancer.
The symptoms of an enlarged prostate are about what you’d expect from the mechanics.
- Frequent urination, particularly at night (due to the bladder becoming weakened by the condition).
- Straining to begin urination.
- Leaking and dribbling.
- A weak urine stream
- An inability to completely empty the bladder.
Though the prostate is technically part of a man’s reproductive organs, an enlarged prostate does usually affect a man’s physical ability to have sex.
In combination with an assessment of the symptoms above, a doctor may administer a series of tests. These may include a test to measure urine flow and the dreaded DRE, or Digital Rectal Exam. During a DRE the doctor will manually check the size and shape of the prostate by inserting a finger into the patient’s anus.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the problem. Many men with enlarged prostates suffer no or few uncomfortable symptoms and in such cases treatment may be deemed unnecessary.
If treatment is required the options include:
Watchful Waiting – where mild symptoms are not significantly affecting quality of life an eye may just be kept on the condition in order to detect any changes in the range or severity of symptoms. Regular check-ups are the major part of this protocol.
Medication - Two general medication-based approaches are available.
- Alpha-blocker drugs may be used to relax the muscles around the prostate so that not so much pressure is applied to the urethra. These drugs quickly improve urinary flow, but side-effects include stomach problems, headaches, blocked nose, dizziness, fatigue and ejaculatory problems.
- 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor therapy. These drugs are designed to shrink the prostate. They take several months to alleviate symptoms and side-effects include erectile dysfunction, reduced semen production and loss of sexual desire.
Surgery - Usually only used in extreme cases where there are major complications such as recurring urinary tract infections and bladder stones.
Non-surgical Approaches – Other treatments exist that use heat therapy to reduce the size of the prostate. These include radiofrequency therapy, microwave therapy and laser therapy.
Easing the Discomfort
If you have symptoms of an enlarged prostate there are some simple things you can do to reduce your level of discomfort.
- Don’t drink anything later than an hour before bed.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol – both of which are diuretics and increase the need to urinate.
- Make an effort to empty your bladder completely each time you urinate.
- Keep warm, your body will more easily release urine.
- Regular exercise will help reduce the pooling of urine in the bladder
- Avoid drugs like decongestants (which can tighten the muscles around the bladder) and antihistamines (which can impair muscle control at the opening of the bladder).
Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or an enlarged prostate, is a natural result of male aging. Over half the male population will suffer some level of symptoms at some point in time. You’re not alone!
Symptoms are often mild and can be accommodated without too much discomfort. If they are more severe, a range of treatments exists that can effectively control the condition and restore comfort and wellbeing to a man’s life.
Learn more about enlarged prostates in this video.
Tags: benign prostatic hyperplasia, bladder stones, enlarged prostate, health and wellbeing, kidney infections, men age, mens health, prostate cancer symptoms, prostate gland, protate, reproductive organs, wellbeing