What is an Enlarged Prostate?

A look at enlarged prostate

Male anatomy
The prostate (orange) sits below the bladder. BSIP/UIG/Getty Images

Synonyms: Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), Benign prostatic hypertrophy

Medical Specialties: Surgery, Urology

Clinical Definition: A common urinary tract disorder affecting men over age 60, an enlarged prostate gland presses against the urethra (tubal transport) and can block the flow of urine from the bladder. 

In Our Own Words

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland at the base of the male bladder that produces a fluid that forms part of semen.

As men age, their prostates often become enlarged, which can block the flow of urine from the bladder. When this happens, the bladder wall becomes irritated and contracts more often, causing more frequent urination. An enlarged prostate can lead to problems with the bladder, urinary tract or kidneys if left untreated. Treatments include medication, lifestyle changes and surgery.

Specific Causes of Enlarged Prostate

Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy. Benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) is a nonmalignant (noncancerous) enlargement of the prostate that results in two types of symptoms: obstructive symptoms and irritative symptoms. Here are some specific symptoms of BPH:

  • urinary hesitancy
  • weak urine stream
  • lengthened voiding
  • dribbling
  • increased urinary frequency
  • urgency
  • urge incontinence
  • nocturia (urination at night)

In addition to such symptoms, BPH also contributes to the development of urinary tract infections.

People who have BPH without symptoms require no treatment regardless of the size of the prostate. However, people who are unable to urinate or have bloody urine secondary to repeated urinary tract infections need treatment.

Treatments for BPH include the following: alpha-adrenergic receptor antagonists (also called alpha blockers) like Flomax or Cardura, which reduce tone of the bladder outlet and result in better urinary flow; PDE5 inhibitors like Viagra, which also treat erectile dysfunction; and surgery like TURP.

Prostate cancer. Behind skin cancer, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men. Currently, more than 2 million Americans have this disease. In recent years, routine screening for prostate cancer using PSA or digital rectal exam (DRE) has fallen out of favor due to unnecessary overdetection of disease. Ultimately, a physician decides whether to screen a man with prostate cancer based on his the patient's general health condition.

In its earliest stages, prostate cancer is usually asymptomatic, meaning that it doesn't cause any symptoms. With more advanced cancer, obstructive symptoms and irritative symptoms similar to those of BPH occur including urinary urgency, frequency and hesitancy, which makes sense because, like BPH, prostate cancer is a cause of enlarged prostate.

Many people with prostate cancer go on to live long lives and die of other causes.In fact, the 5-year survival rate for people diagnosed with prostate cancer is 99 percent. Advanced cases of prostate cancer metastasize or spread throughout the body.

Specifically, this cancer mostly spreads to the bones.

Only 5 percent of people present with advanced prostate cancer. In these people, the disease is severe and life threatening. Treatment in people with advanced prostate cancer focuses on improvement in quality of life and includes surgery and chemotherapy.


Harvard Medical School. Medical Dictionary of Health Terms. Harvard Health Publications 2012. Accessed July 2013.

The Cleveland Clinic. Disease & Conditions. “Benign Prostatic Enlargement” in 2011. Accessed July 2013.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIH) Information Clearinghouse. Accessed July 2013.

Continue Reading