Prostate enlargement is one of the most common health problems men experience. In fact, if you are a man over the age of 45, there’s a 50 percent chance you already suffer from it! Medically, it’s known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), both of which are just medical jargon for an enlarged prostate.
Studies show that approximately 50 percent of men over the age of 45 have BPH, and according to the National Institute on Aging, by age 70 that figure rises as high as 90 percent. Over 10 million American men suffer from an enlarged prostate! Between 9 and 12 million men with BPH have symptoms so severe they must seek medical treatment, and one out of four undergo surgery.
So, what causes prostate enlargement?
Though many factors come into play, the hormonal changes that occur as men age are a primary cause of prostate enlargement.
Around the age of forty-five, men’s levels of testosterone in the blood plummet and levels of other hormones, such as prolactin and estradiol, increase. The end result of these changes is an increase of a very potent form of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone or DHT in the prostate gland. Leading scientists say DHT is the prime culprit that stimulates an over-production of prostate cells, which leads to an enlarged prostate.
As the prostate enlarges, it pinches the diameter of the urethra, partially blocking it, which in turn puts pressure on the bladder. Imagine putting a kink in a garden hose, and you’ll get the picture. The pressure weakens or stops the flow of urine. The same thing happens when the urethra is blocked. The urine stream is lessened, and the bladder is unable to empty com- pletely.
Eventually the backed up pressure can severely weaken and damage the bladder. Bacteria breed in the stagnant urine that isn’t passed and the bladder may become infected. The kidneys can also be dangerously affected by a resulting increase in pressure when the bladder can’t be properly emptied, much as household plumbing backs up when there is an obstruction in the system. Infections in the bladder can easily be transmitted to the kidneys.
The most common symptoms of an enlarged prostate are difficulties with urination, and sexual function can be affected as well. One of the most noticeable symptoms is the need to pass urine frequently, a problem that becomes increasingly more troublesome with time.
Many men with enlarged prostates find their sleep disrupted by having to get up several times at night to urinate. Added to that is the frustration of having difficulty starting or stopping the urine flow, and dribbling or even incontinence. Pain and burning are additional symptoms, and there may be blood in the urine.
It’s possible to have an enlarged prostate and not be aware of it because no noticeable symptoms have yet surfaced. However, symptoms can occur suddenly and dramaticallyó for example being unable to urinate at all. This is a condition known as acute urinary retention, which can be brought on by a number of factors, one of which is alcohol. Some common over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines can also trigger this condition, because they contain ingredients that prevent the bladder from emptying.
There are urgent reasons to get prostate enlargement under control. If allowed to go on too long, it can cause serious health problems, including permanent bladder and kidney damage, urinary infections and incontinence. It is important to treat BPH early to lower the risk of complications. There are several examinations to detect prostate enlargement. For convenience, some of these are referred to by their initials.