Men are notoriously unwilling to talk about their health problems or go to doctors, yet some conditions are so common that they should definitely be talked about. One of them is BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia.
Image Credit: Floridaphysicalmedicine.com
What the prostate does
Prostate is a gland that surrounds the urethra (the tube that transports urine), and normally it is about the size of a walnut. Its main functions are producing the semen fluid and converting the inactive form of the male hormone testosterone into its active form. In grows actively when puberty begins, then remains stable for a long time, but around the age of 30 it starts growing again. It is that growth that is called benigh prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It is absolutely not malignant, it does not cause prostate cancer, and the growth can go on for many years without a man even feeling anything. According to statistics, around 50% of men have BPH by the age of 50 and 90% by the age of 80.
Symptoms of BPH
As the prostate enlarges, it begins to press on the urethra on all sides, like a closed fist presses on a drinking straw, for example. This creates problems for the urine to pass through the urethra and causes the main BPH symptoms:
- Frequent need to urinate
- Difficulty to begin urination
- Weak flow, starting and stopping
- Waking up at night to go to the bathroom
- Inability to empty the bladder completely.
In many cases, the symptoms remain mild for years and the only medical treatment needed is watchful waiting and regular examination by an urologist to check the size of the prostate. However, if the prostate enlarges quickly (or simply with time), serious complications can arise.
Complications and treatment
If the bladder is never emptied fully, this can cause damage to the surrounding tissues:
- Infections – bacteria can start spreading in the urethra or bladder, causing pain and itching;
- Chronic inflammation of the prostate – it is benign but can cause constant pain;
- Stones in the bladder and gallbladder;
- Kidney damage.
If any of these complications occur, or if it becomes too difficult to urinate, treatment with drugs or even a minor surgery should be considered.
BPH treatment methods
Different strategies exist – all of them very effective and safe:
- alpha blockers – these drugs help the smooth muscle of the prostate relax, reducing its grip on the urethra;
- reductase inhibitors – these drugs block the compound called 5-alpha reductase, which transforms testosterone in the prostate (this is linked to the enlargement of the gland);
- resection – this is a surgery in which a special tool is inserted into the urethra and excess tissue of the prostate is removed using electricity;
- laser surgery – it is fast and safe and does more or less the same as resection.
Can BPH be prevented?
BPH is a normal effect of aging, and preventing it completely is hardly possible. However, men can slow the process (and help the prostate in general) by following a few simple tips:
- Keep your weight in check – obesity increases the effects of BPH;
- Include lots of essential fatty acids in your diet, like omega-3 and omega-6, found in fatty fish, nuts, and seeds;
- Zinc – found in beans, seafood, and nuts; or take supplements that also contain copper;
- Selenium – Brazil nuts are the best source; otherwise, consider supplements.
There is no reason to be afraid of BPH, since it is completely benign. However, similar symptoms can be caused by a serious infection, prostatitis, or even prostate cancer; therefore, if you (or your husband) starts having these signs, a visit to a doctor is a must.