What is BPH?

diagram BPH — or benign prostatic hyperplasia — is the medical term for an enlarged prostate (the prostate is the male sex gland that produces the fluid for semen [3]. An enlarged prostate is not cancerous and is the most common prostate health problem among men over 50.[1]

How common is it? Half of all men between the ages of 50 and 60 will develop it, and by the age of 80 about 90% of men will have BPH.[2]

The symptoms of BPH may be uncomfortable and may include frequent urination, incomplete emptying of the bladder, a weak urine stream, or difficulty starting urination.[3]

Why is BPH so common?

BPH is a condition associated with aging, probably due to hormonal changes. Among men over 50, prostate enlargement may continue through the rest of their lives.[4]

How can BPH symptoms include both a difficulty in starting urination and an uncontrollable urge to urinate?

Just as BPH symptoms vary with the individual, they also differ as the condition progresses. The discomfort and complications associated with an enlarged prostate are related to a combination of problems that develop over time.

In the early phase of prostate enlargement, a man may find it very hard to urinate because the bladder muscle has to work harder to push urine through the narrower urethra. This extra force may eventually thicken the bladder muscle, making the bladder overly sensitive to the presence of fluid and resulting in an urgent and frequent need to urinate.

Over time, the bladder muscle may weaken, so that urine is not completely excreted. Any unusual variation, or difficulty in the pattern of urination, is a red flag that a prostate problem may exist.

Can enlarged prostate lead to cancer?

Although it is possible to have both conditions at the same time, there is no known link between BPH and prostate cancer.[5]

Does an enlarged prostate interfere with sexual activity?

An enlarged prostate usually does not interfere with the ability to have sex. However, embarrassing BPH symptoms may discourage a man from pursuing sexual activity.

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Please note: Men’s Health Network does not provide medical services. Rather, this information is provided to encourage you to begin a knowledgeable dialogue with your physician. Check with your healthcare provider about your need for specific health screenings.

[1] NIH Publication No. 14-3012. Prostate Enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia. August 2014.

[2] American Urological Association Guideline: Management of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). P4. Revised 2010.

[3] American Urological Association Guideline: Management of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH). P9. Revised 2010.

[4] NIH Publication No. 08-4806. What I Need to Know About Prostate Problems. P5. February 2008

[5] American Cancer Society. Prostate Cancer Prevention and Detection 2014. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2015.