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What is Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy?

benign prostatic hypertrophy

Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH) is the presence of an enlarged prostate gland, a condition which is more prevalent in older men. Men who suffer from BPH experience many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer; however, BPH is non-cancerous and the presence of this condition does not mean that a man is more likely to develop prostate cancer in the future.

What is Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy (BPH)?

Although BPH is common in older men, many may still ask “What is BPH (benign prostatic hypertrophy)?”

BPH is the inflammation or enlargement of the prostate gland. The risk for developing BPH increases with age, because as men get older, their prostate enlarges. The reason behind this is attributed to changes in hormone levels. As men get older, the amount of active testosterone in the blood drops, resulting in a higher proportion of estrogen, which is suggested to promote cell growth in the prostate gland and lead to prostate enlargement.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), BPH is prevalent in more than 50% of men over age 60 years and in around 90% of men over the age of 70 years.

Location of Prostate Glands and Relationship to BPH Symptoms

The prostate gland is located behind the rectum and below the bladder. This gland surrounds the urethra, which is the thin tube that carries blood from the bladder to the outside of the body. The main function of the prostate gland is to help produce semen, which is also transported from the body during ejaculation via the urethra in men.

When the prostate gland is enlarged by a condition, such as BPH, it impinges on the bodily functions in that region. As such, BPH symptoms include many urinary-related symptoms that are also often seen in men who have prostate cancer.

BPH Symptoms and Warning Signs of Enlarged Prostate

The most common BPH symptoms are problems associated with urinating, as the enlarged prostate pushes on the urethra and bladder. BPH symptoms include the following:

  • difficultly beginning to urinate
  • a feeling of incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • waking up multiple times in the night in order to urinate
  • the sudden urge to urinate
  • frequent urination
  • pain when urinating

If the bladder does not completely empty, a urinary tract infection can occur. Some men may also experience blood in their urine, which occurs becuase blood vessel are broken on the inner surface of the enlarged prostate or a sudden streching of the bladder.

How to Distinguish BPH Symptoms from Prostate Cancer

While men who suffer from BPH experience many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer, BPH is non-cancerous and the presence of this condition does not mean that a man is more likely to develop prostate cancer in the future. However, a man who is experiencing BPH symptoms must first undergo some screening tests, such as a PSA test and DRE (digital rectal examination), in order to rule out the presence of prostate cancer. As such, any man who experiences BPH should seek help from their doctor.

While one-third of all mild cases of BPH can be resolved without any treatment at all, when a man in inconvenienced by his BPH symptoms or the condition is posing a problem to his health, pharmacological drug therapy can be employed, with surgery reserved for more severe BPH cases.

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Fighting More Advanced Prostate Problems

The prostate is a relatively small gland underneath a man’s bladder. It’s only about the size of a walnut, but as a man ages it often enlarges… and then problems start.

When It’s Just Enlarged Prostate

It’s fairly common for a man’s prostate gland to expand with age. When it does, it squeezes the urethra, the tube that allows for easy urine flow, and that makes passing urine difficult. This enlargement is called benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, for short.

The article Treating Prostate Problems offers a fairly good discussion of more basic methods for treating BPH, but here’s one quick note: One of the major advances in fighting this enlargement since the mid-80s has been treating BPH with drugs instead of surgeries. In particular, medications called alpha blockers are excellent in helping regulate urine flow. Flomax, Hytrin, and Uroxatral are just three such drugs.

The main side effect of these drugs is that they can lower blood pressure. If a man feels dizziness after starting one of these drugs for BPH, it would be wise to consult his doctor and see if another medicine would help or if another treatment is necessary.

Surgery for BPH

The good news is the last decade has brought less invasive surgeries for BPH. There’s an outpatient procedure in which a microwave heats and destroys overgrown tissue and an inpatient procedure using a laser to vaporize obstructive tissue. Both allow for better urine flow.

The American Urological Association (AUA) also notes the use of spring-like contraption called a stent inside the prostate. This is done without any anesthesia and it’s generally recommended for patients who, for one reason or another, are not considered good candidates for aggressive surgeries.

A wide range of these and other surgical options (in much more detail) can be found at the Urology Health website.

The Cancer Surgery Debate

Sometimes the prostate isn’t enlarged due to natural aging, but because of prostate cancer. In men 60 or younger, the general attitude among health experts is to go after the cancer aggressively because it’s more likely to be fatal in this age group. The most common procedure, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is radical prostatectomy, a procedure that removes the entire prostate and often nearby tissues.

One of the dangers of a prostatectomy is that it may damage the nerves that allow for an erection. The NCI notes that sometimes a technique called “nerve-sparing surgery” may be viable, but it’s not always an option.

In older men (especially 75 and up) prostate cancer tends to be fairly slow growing. So many doctors talking to older patients suggest a process called “watchful waiting.” That means coming back for regular check-ups to see if the cancer is progressing before trying surgery. Some may suggest radiation therapy to fight the disease. If an older patient is fighting several other health problems, watchful waiting may be the best option.

Ultimately every patient should be evaluated individually and then engage in a careful discussion with their physician, either primary care or urologist, about the pros and cons of various treatments.

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Foods for Prostate Health

Approximately 50 percent of men in their forties experience prostate problems while one in 11 North American men over the age of 50 will develop prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men.

Fortunately, medical research has demonstrated that BPH and other prostate conditions and diseases can be prevented, reduced and treated by a variety of procedures, medications, herbal supplements as well as nutritional and lifestyle changes.

The right nutrition can protect the prostate and reduce the risk of disease. Early detection also increases the chance of beating prostate cancer. Physicians estimate that almost 80 per cent of all cancers can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices.

Foods that Prevent Prostate Disease

To reduce the risk of prostate cancer avoid saturated and trans fats and add foods that protect against cancers, such as tomatoes, soy, and green tea. Ripe tomatoes contain lycopene, a nutrient that is especially important to men because of its protective effects against prostate cancer. Unlike other nutrients, there are actually higher amounts of lycopene in cooked and processed tomatoes such as tomato sauce.

Soy contains isoflavones with specific anti-cancer activity and green tea is rich in polyphenols which prevent the formation of cancer-causing compounds and block the growth of prostate cancer cells.
Add nuts and seeds to your daily diet to significantly prevent and reduce prostate enlargement. They contain essential fatty acids and zinc, nutrients which inhibit the hormonal processes that cause swelling of the prostate. Unrefined, cold-pressed nut and seed oils such as flax seed, walnut and sesame seed oil are excellent sources of essential fatty acids. Fish oil has a similar, healthy effect.

Take a daily nutritional supplement that contains high doses of the antioxidant selenium (200 micrograms) and vitamin E (800 IU). Both these supplements have been shown to dramatically lower the risk of prostate cancer.

It is no surprise that prostate cancer is more common in western, developed countries, or that its incidence rose in the turn of the century when processed food containing hydrogenated and heat-damaging fats became more available.

Herbal Supplements for Prostate Health

Extracts of two herbs, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and pygeum (Pygeum africanum) have been shown to reduce enlargement of the prostate without adverse side effects. Suggested doses are 320 milligrams of saw palmetto and 40 to 80 mg of pygeum daily. Saw palmetto extract has also been combined with an extract from the herb nettle root, to successfully treat prostate problems other than prostate cancer. Consult a physician before using natural supplements.

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