An enlarged prostate is an increase in the size of the prostate. It isn’t caused by cancer. The medical term for an enlarged prostate is benign prostatic enlargement (BPE).
- Benign – not cancer.
- Prostatic – to do with the prostate.
- Enlargement – an increase in size.
You might also hear it called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Hyperplasia means an increase in the number of cells. It is this increase in cells that makes the prostate grow bigger (see diagram). In our information, we use the words ‘enlarged prostate’ to describe both BPE and BPH.
An enlarged prostate is very common in men over the age of about 50. Not all men with an enlarged prostate get symptoms. But as the prostate grows, it can press on the outside of the urethra, causing the urethra to become narrow. This can slow down or sometimes even stop the flow of urine when you try to urinate.
About 1 in 3 men over the age of 50 have urinary symptoms. The most common cause of these symptoms is an enlarged prostate.
What causes an enlarged prostate?
We still don’t really know all the things that cause the prostate to grow. But we do know about two risk factors that can increase your risk of having an enlarged prostate.
Your risk of having an enlarged prostate increases as you get older. Many men aged 50 or over have an enlarged prostate, but they don’t all get symptoms. And some men have symptoms that don’t bother them.
The balance of hormones (oestrogen and testosterone) in your body changes as you get older. This may cause your prostate to grow.
Some studies show that obese men and men who have diabetes may be more likely to develop an enlarged prostate. Regular exercise may help to reduce your risk of urinary symptoms. But we still need more studies into the causes of enlarged prostate to know for certain if, and how, we can prevent it.
There is also some research that suggests you may be more at risk of developing an enlarged prostate if your father or brother has one. Again, further studies are needed to confirm this.
What are the signs and symptoms of an enlarged prostate?
An enlarged prostate is the most common cause of urinary problems in men as they get older. Possible symptoms include:
- a weak flow when you urinate
- a feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
- difficulty starting to urinate
- dribbling urine after you finish urinating
- needing to urinate more often, especially at night
- a sudden urge to urinate – you may sometimes leak before you get to the toilet.
You may not get all of these symptoms, and some men with an enlarged prostate don’t get any symptoms at all. These symptoms can also be caused by other things, such as cold weather, anxiety, other health problems, lifestyle factors, and some medicines. Blood in your urine may be a symptom of an enlarged prostate. But this is rare and is usually caused by something else.
If you have any of the symptoms above, you should visit your GP to find out what may be causing them.