Prostatic enlargement is growth of the prostate gland that is a common result of aging in men.
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Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Prostatic (pros-TAT-ik) enlargement is more commonly known by the difficult-sounding name benign prostatic hyperplasia (be-NINE pros-TAT-ik hy-per-PLAY-zha), or BPH. Breaking this name down into parts makes it easier to understand.
”Prostatic” indicates that this is a condition that affects the prostate, the walnut-sized gland in men that is located below the bladder and in front of the rectum*. The prostate surrounds the upper part of the urethra (yoo-REE-thra), the tube that empties urine from the bladder and out through the penis. The prostate makes a thick fluid that is important in the transportation of sperm*.
- * rectum
- is the final portion of the large intestine, connecting the colon to the outside opening of the anus.
- * sperm
- are the tiny, tadpole-like cells males produce in their testicles. Sperm can unite with a female’s egg to result eventually in the birth of a child.
”Hyperplasia” means too much formation of cells. It indicates that this is a condition in which too much tissue grows in the prostate gland, making it larger than normal.
Finally, “benign” means that this extra tissue is not cancerous and will not spread to nearby tissues or other parts of the body.
BPH mainly affects men over the age of 50. Doctors believe that roughly half of men over age 60 and 8 out of 10 men over age 80 have this condition. Researchers are not sure what causes this condition, but they believe it may involve changes in hormone* levels related to aging.
- * hormones
- are chemicals produced by various glands in the body. A hormone is like the body’s ambassador: it is created in one place but is sent through the body to have specific regulatory effects in different places.
Many men with an enlarged prostate have no symptoms at all. Others may have difficulty urinating. A doctor can feel whether or not the prostate is enlarged during a digital rectal examination. This involves placing a gloved finger into the rectum and feeling the prostate gland through the rectal wall.
Because an enlarged prostate is sometimes a sign of prostate cancer, the doctor often takes a blood sample and tests it for a substance called prostate-specific antigen (AN-ti-jen), or PSA. Usually, this substance is present at abnormally high levels when a man has prostate cancer. If the levels are in the normal range, that would suggest to the doctor that BPH is the more likely diagnosis. If he is uncertain at this point, the doctor may need to do further tests before ruling out cancer.
BPH is rarely a threat to life but may require treatment to relieve symptoms. As the prostate enlarges, it pushes against the urethra and bladder, blocking the normal flow of urine, almost like a clamp on a garden hose. Men with this condition feel like they need to urinate more often because they cannot empty the bladder completely. Often, doctors can prescribe drugs that reduce the size of the prostate and improve the bladder’s function. In some cases, surgery may be necessary.
The National Kidney and Urologie Diseases Information Clearinghouse, 3 Information Way, Bethesda, MD 20892-3560. This organization produces the pamphlet Prostatic Enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. It is also available online at http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health/urolog/pubs/prostate/index.htm