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Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

Overview of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Doctors call this condition benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or benign prostatic hypertrophy.

Though the prostate continues to grow during most of a man's life, the enlargement doesn't usually cause problems until late in life. BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their sixties and as many as 90 percent in their seventies and eighties have some symptoms of BPH.

As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose. The bladder wall becomes thicker and irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination. Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself, so some of the urine remains in the bladder. The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder cause many of the problems associated with BPH.

Reasons Why BPH Occurs

The cause of BPH is not well understood. No definite information on risk factors exists. For centuries, it has been known that BPH occurs mainly in older men and that it doesn't develop in men whose testes were removed before puberty. For this reason, some researchers believe that factors related to aging and the testes may spur the development of BPH.

Throughout their lives, men produce both testosterone, an important male hormone, and small amounts of estrogen, a female hormone. As men age, the amount of active testosterone in the blood decreases, leaving a higher proportion of estrogen. Studies done on animals have suggested that BPH may occur because the higher amount of estrogen within the gland increases the activity of substances that promote cell growth.

Another theory focuses on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance derived from testosterone in the prostate, which may help control its growth. Most animals lose their ability to produce DHT as they age. However, some research has indicated that even with a drop in the blood's testosterone level, older men continue to produce and accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate. This accumulation of DHT may encourage the growth of cells. Scientists have also noted that men who do not produce DHT do not develop BPH.

Some researchers suggest that BPH may develop as a result of "instructions" given to cells early in life. According to this theory, BPH occurs because cells in one section of the gland follow these instructions and "reawaken" later in life. These "reawakened" cells then deliver signals to other cells in the gland, instructing them to grow or making them more sensitive to hormones that influence growth.

Symptoms of (BPH) - Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia

Many symptoms of BPH stem from obstruction of the urethra and gradual loss of bladder function, which results in incomplete emptying of the bladder. The symptoms of BPH vary, but the most common ones involve changes or problems with urination, such as a hesitant, interrupted, weak stream urgency and leaking or dribbling more frequent urination or especially at night.

The size of the prostate does not always determine how severe the obstruction or the symptoms will be. Some men with greatly enlarged glands have little obstruction and few symptoms while others, whose glands are less enlarged, have more blockage and greater problems.

Sometimes a man may not know he has any obstruction until he suddenly finds himself unable to urinate at all. This condition, called acute urinary retention, may be triggered by taking over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines. Such medicines contain a decongestant drug, known as a sympathomimetic.

A potential side effect of this drug may prevent the bladder opening from relaxing and allowing urine to empty. When partial obstruction is present, urinary retention also can be brought on by alcohol, cold temperatures, or a long period of immobility.

It is important to tell your doctor about urinary problems such as those described above. In eight out of 10 cases, these symptoms suggest BPH, but they also can signal other, more serious conditions that require prompt treatment. These conditions, including prostate cancer, can be ruled out only by a doctor's examination.

Severe BPH can cause serious problems over time. Urine retention and strain on the bladder can lead to urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney damage, bladder stones, and incontinence-the inability to control urination. If the bladder is permanently damaged, treatment for BPH may be ineffective. When BPH is found in its earlier stages, there is a lower risk of developing such complications.

Tell your doctor about urinary problems such as those described below..

problems such as...hesitant, interrupted, weak stream, urgency and leaking or dribbling and or more frequent urination especially at night.

Testing

National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend that all men over 40 have a rectal examination once a year to screen for prostate cancer.

After Surgery (If applicable)

In the years after your surgery, it is important to continue having a rectal examination once a year and to have any symptoms checked by your doctor.

Since surgery for BPH leaves behind a good part of the gland, it is still possible for prostate problems, including BPH, to develop again. However, surgery usually offers relief from BPH for at least 15 years. Only 10 percent of the men who have surgery for BPH eventually need a second operation for enlargement. Usually these are men who had the first surgery at an early age.

Sometimes, scar tissue resulting from surgery requires treatment in the year after surgery. Rarely, the opening of the bladder becomes scarred and shrinks, causing obstruction. This problem may require a surgical procedure similar to transurethral incision (see section on Surgical Treatment). More often, scar tissue may form in the urethra and cause narrowing. The doctor can solve this problem during an office visit by stretching the urethra.

Treatment of BPH

Men who have BPH with symptoms usually need some kind of treatment at some time. However, a number of researchers have questioned the need for early treatment when the gland is just mildly enlarged. The results of their studies indicate that early treatment may not be needed because the symptoms of BPH clear up without treatment in as many as one-third of all mild cases. Instead of immediate treatment, they suggest regular checkups to watch for early problems.

If the condition begins to pose a danger to the patient's health or causes a major inconvenience to him, treatment is usually recommended. Since BPH can cause urinary tract infections, a doctor will usually clear up any infection with antibiotics before treating the BPH itself.

Although the need for treatment is not usually urgent, doctors generally advise going ahead with treatment once the problems become bothersome or present a health risk.

The following section describes the types of treatment that are most commonly used for BPH.

Drug Treatment

Over the years, researchers have tried to find a way to shrink or at least stop the growth of the prostate without using surgery. The FDA has approved six drugs to relieve common symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate. Finasteride (Proscar), FDA-approved in 1992, and dutasteride (Avodart), FDA-approved in 2001, inhibit production of the hormone DHT, which is involved with prostate enlargement. The use of either of these drugs can either prevent progression of growth of the prostate or actually shrink the prostate in some men.

The FDA also approved the drugs terazosin (Hytrin) in 1993, doxazosin (Cardura) in 1995, tamsulosin (Flomax) in 1997, and alfuzosin (Uroxatral) in 2003 for the treatment of BPH. All four drugs act by relaxing the smooth muscle of the prostate and bladder neck to improve urine flow and to reduce bladder outlet obstruction. The four drugs belong to the class known as alpha blockers. Terazosin and doxazosin were developed first to treat high blood pressure. Tamsulosin and alfuzosin were developed specifically to treat BPH.

The Medical Therapy of Prostatic Symptoms (MTOPS) Trial, supported by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), recently found that using finasteride and doxazosin together is more effective than using either drug alone to relieve symptoms and prevent BPH progression. The two-drug regimen reduced the risk of BPH progression by 67 percent, compared with 39 percent for doxazosin alone and 34 percent for finasteride alone.

Less Invasive Treatments

Transurethral microwave procedures

In 1996, the FDA approved a device that uses microwaves to heat and destroy excess prostate tissue. In the procedure called transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT), the device sends computer-regulated microwaves through a catheter to heat selected portions of the prostate to at least 111 degrees Fahrenheit. A cooling system protects the urinary tract during the procedure.

The procedure takes about 1 hour and can be performed on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia. TUMT has not been reported to lead to erectile dysfunction or incontinence. Although microwave therapy does not cure BPH, it reduces urinary frequency, urgency, straining, and intermittent flow. It does not correct the problem of incomplete emptying of the bladder. Ongoing research will determine any long-term effects of microwave therapy and who might benefit most from this therapy.

Transurethral Needle Ablation

Also in 1996, the FDA approved the minimally invasive transurethral needle ablation (TUNA) system for the treatment of BPH. The TUNA system delivers low-level radiofrequency energy through twin needles to burn away a well-defined region of the enlarged prostate. Shields protect the urethra from heat damage. The TUNA system improves urine flow and relieves symptoms with fewer side effects when compared with transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). No incontinence or impotence has been observed.

Water-induced thermotherapy

This therapy uses heated water to destroy excess tissue in the prostate. A catheter containing multiple shafts is positioned in the urethra so that a treatment balloon rests in the middle of the prostate. A computer controls the temperature of the water, which flows into the balloon and heats the surrounding prostate tissue. The system focuses the heat in a precise region of the prostate. Surrounding tissues in the urethra and bladder are protected. Destroyed tissue either escapes with urine through the urethra or is reabsorbed by the body.

High-intensity focused ultrasound

The use of ultrasound waves to destroy prostate tissue is still undergoing clinical trials in the United States. The FDA has not yet approved high-intensity focused ultrasound.

Surgical Treatment

Most doctors recommend removal of the enlarged part of the prostate as the best long-term solution for patients with BPH. With surgery for BPH, only the enlarged tissue that is pressing against the urethra is removed; the rest of the inside tissue and the outside capsule are left intact. Surgery usually relieves the obstruction and incomplete emptying caused by BPH. The following section describes the types of surgery that are used.

Transurethral Surgery

In this type of surgery, no external incision is needed. After giving anesthesia, the surgeon reaches the prostate by inserting an instrument through the urethra. A procedure called transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) is used for 90 percent of all prostate surgeries done for BPH. With TURP, an instrument called a resectoscope is inserted through the penis. The resectoscope, which is about 12 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, contains a light, valves for controlling irrigating fluid, and an electrical loop that cuts tissue and seals blood vessels.

During the 90-minute operation, the surgeon uses the resectoscope's wire loop to remove the obstructing tissue one piece at a time. The pieces of tissue are carried by the fluid into the bladder and then flushed out at the end of the operation.

Most doctors suggest using TURP whenever possible. Transurethral procedures are less traumatic than open forms of surgery and require a shorter recovery period. One possible side effect of TURP is retrograde, or backward, ejaculation. In this condition, semen flows backward into the bladder during climax instead of out the urethra.

Another surgical procedure is called transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP). Instead of removing tissue, as with TURP, this procedure widens the urethra by making a few small cuts in the bladder neck, where the urethra joins the bladder, and in the prostate gland itself. Although some people believe that TUIP gives the same relief as TURP with less risk of side effects such as retrograde ejaculation, its advantages and long-term side effects have not been clearly established.

Open Surgery

In the few cases when a transurethral procedure cannot be used, open surgery, which requires an external incision, may be used. Open surgery is often done when the gland is greatly enlarged, when there are complicating factors, or when the bladder has been damaged and needs to be repaired. The location of the enlargement within the gland and the patient's general health help the surgeon decide which of the three open procedures to use.

With all the open procedures, anesthesia is given and an incision is made. Once the surgeon reaches the prostate capsule, he or she scoops out the enlarged tissue from inside the gland.

Laser Surgery

In March 1996, the FDA approved a surgical procedure that employs side-firing laser fibers and Nd: YAG lasers to vaporize obstructing prostate tissue. The doctor passes the laser fiber through the urethra into the prostate using a cystoscope and then delivers several bursts of energy lasting 30 to 60 seconds. The laser energy destroys prostate tissue and causes shrinkage. As with TURP, laser surgery requires anesthesia and a hospital stay. One advantage of laser surgery over TURP is that laser surgery causes little blood loss. Laser surgery also allows for a quicker recovery time. But laser surgery may not be effective on larger prostates. The long-term effectiveness of laser surgery is not known

References:

What I Need to Know About Prostate Problems  NIH: NIH Publication No. 08 4806 February 2008
Prostate Problems -  National Institue on Aging
Medical Tests for Prostate Problems  NKUDIC: NIH Publication No. 12-5105 January 2012
Prostate Enlargement: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia  NKUDIC: NIH Publication No. 07-3012 June 2006
The Urologic Diseases Dictionary  NKUDIC: NIH Publication No. 10-4376 May 2010

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)

National Institutes of Health
NIH Publication No. 07-3012
June 2006

AUAFoundation - The Official Foundation of the American Urological Association

NKDEP - National Kidney Disease Education Program

NKUDIC - National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Kidney and Urologic Diseases A-Z list of Topics and Titles

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