What Causes an Enlarged Prostate?
One of the most common conditions affecting older men is an enlarged prostate, medically known as benign prostatic hyperplasia. Its frequency among American males increases significantly after reaching 40. So, what causes an enlarged prostate? We’ll get to that.
This condition is one of the most common causes of lower urinary tract symptoms among aging men. Awareness is important, as this condition can lead to discomfort and affect your quality of life if not treated. So, what causes an enlarged prostate? Read on to learn about what the prostate is, what causes it to enlarge, symptoms to watch for, and finally, how to seek treatment for this condition.
What is the Prostate?
The male reproductive system consists of the penis, prostate, seminal vesicles, and testicles. The prostate gland is about the size of a walnut and is found below the urinary bladder, surrounding the urinary tract. It’s considered an accessory gland; its main function is to help produce semen. A normal, healthy prostate in an adult male usually has a volume of 20 milliliters to 30 milliliters.
What is an Enlarged Prostate?
An enlarged prostate means that the prostate gland has increased in size. This is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or benign prostatic hypertrophy due to the increased number of glandular cells and fibrous tissue in the prostate. It's identified through histology, also known as microscopic anatomy or microanatomy. By looking at the cells under the microscope, medical experts can differentiate benign prostatic hyperplasia from possible prostate cancer.
An enlarged prostate can narrow the cavity of the urinary tract, leading to obstruction, urinary retention, bladder stones, and blood in the urine. Although it is not fatal, quality of life is severely affected by an enlarged prostate. It can also lead to high healthcare costs.
Understanding the Causes
There is no exact cause of an enlarged prostate. Studies have found that the hormone testosterone affects the prostate; however, other risk factors can also lead to its enlargement.
One risk factor is age, with at least 50% of men in the U.S. having the condition by age 70. A genetic component can also be linked — men are four times more likely to experience an enlarged prostate if their brothers or other relatives have had it.
Lifestyle factors can also be the cause, such as:
- Alcohol intake
- Physical activity levels
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
An enlarged prostate can be mistaken for prostate cancer since it can present with similar symptoms. However, certain tests and a biopsy can differentiate between the two. An enlarged prostate does not necessarily lead to prostate cancer.
Urinary discomfort is usually an early symptom. Straining while urinating, eventually leading to difficulty in urination with a weak urine stream, will occur as the prostate increases in size and pressure is placed on the urinary tract. Increased pressure leads to an inability to empty the bladder, which may lead to a frequent urge to pee, even at bedtime. Eventually, there will be bladder obstruction and, in severe cases, the inability to urinate at all.
Retention of urine in the bladder also increases the risk for urinary tract infections and bladder stones, damaging the bladder and the kidneys if left untreated. These manifest as bloody or cloudy urine and pain during urination.
Lifestyle changes and observation can help to relieve discomfort in mild cases. However, you may require medical intervention if you are experiencing severe issues with urination.
Treatment for an enlarged prostate can be medical or surgical. Medications can also be used to treat different symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe alpha-blockers to relax the bladder and prostate muscles to make urination easier. They may also prescribe 5-alpha reductase inhibitors to interfere with hormonal changes that contribute to the progression of an enlarged prostate.
If lifestyle, diet changes, and medications do not work, your doctor may recommend surgery to increase the diameter of the urinary tract. If you are experiencing the symptoms mentioned above, it is best to consult your doctor to determine the best treatment option.
An enlarged prostate can lead to poor quality of life if not treated. However, remember that despite a larger prostate gland and some uncomfortable symptoms, an enlarged prostate does not necessarily mean prostate cancer! Make sure to visit your doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above.
- Indian Journal of Pharmacology (Benign prostatic hyperplasia: An overview of existing treatment)
- ScienceDirect (Epidemiology of clinical benign prostatic hyperplasia)
- Tzu Chi Medical Journal (Pathophysiology of benign prostate enlargement and lower urinary tract symptoms: Current concepts)
- Asian Journal of Urology (Epidemiology of clinical benign prostatic hyperplasia)
- PubMed.gov (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia)