Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is one of the most common diseases to affect men over 40. Almost half of all men over the age of 65 suffer from problems caused by an enlarged prostate gland. The development of new, effective drugs and treatments has reduced the need for surgery in treating prostate problems. However, many men simply adapt their lives to cope with their symptoms rather than to have any treatment.
What Does The Prostate Gland Do?
The prostate gland is at the base of the bladder. It secretes fluid into the semen. The gland gradually enlarges with age and can block the passage of urine from the bladder.
Who Is At Risk Of BPH And What Are The Symptoms?
The risk of BPH increases with age and is more likely if a close relative has the disease. The gland can change slightly after the age of 40 and around 50 per cent of men in their 60s and 90 per cent of men over 85 have BPH. The symptoms of BPH are caused by the prostate gland enlarging and obstructing the flow of urine. This obstruction irritates the bladder. The symptoms tend to come on very slowly but they gradually affect the sufferer's quality of life.
Ask Yourself The Following Three Questions:
• Do you get up at night to pass urine?
• Is your urine flow slow?
• Are you concerned about by your bladder's function?
Many men find it difficult to start passing water. They have to stop and start and it feels like they have not quite emptied the bladder. The bladder may overflow, causing urine to leak. For example, the sound of running water can cause leakage before you reach the toilet and dribbling afterwards. Sometimes the need to pass urine will become very urgent and you will feel the need to urinate more often. Although the symptoms usually get gradually worse, symptoms can vary. Up to 30 per cent of men may find the symptoms remain stable, 15 per cent of men's symptoms will improve with time, but 55 per cent of men will find the symptoms gradually get worse.
The bladder muscles may strain to push urine through the narrowing passage. Having too much to drink can suddenly overstretch the bladder and stop the muscle from working. This is very uncomfortable and you will need to contact your GP to have the urine drained away. Your GP will do this by inserting a catheter (which is a thin flexible tube) gently up through the penis into the bladder. Following this, you will almost certainly need an operation.
What Tests Will I Have?
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your abdomen and penis. He or she will also examine your prostate gland by putting his or her finger in your rectum. Your urine will be tested to make sure there is no infection or blood in it. Your doctor will also do a blood test to make sure your kidneys are working properly and that you do not have prostate cancer. You may be referred to a clinic which will give you a form of diary in which you write down how often you urinate and the number and type of drinks you have each day. You may be asked to urinate into a flow meter which measures the flow and volume. After this, your bladder may be examined with an ultrasound machine which tells your doctor whether or not you have completely emptied your bladder.
Can BPH Be Treated?
BPH can be treated by drugs or, if necessary, surgery. The treatment you have depends on how severe your symptoms are, how much your urine flow is reduced and whether or not there is a large volume of urine remaining in the bladder after you go to the toilet. Your doctor may decide that a 'watch and wait' approach is appropriate. Check out the panel to see how you can help yourself.
There are several options that you should discuss with your GP.
• Watch And Wait
Many men won't need treatment, especially if their prostate is only slightly enlarged with minimum symptoms. Your doctor will see you regularly to monitor your condition.
• Treatment With Drugs
There are two main types of drug for treating BPH. One type, a-blockers, reduces muscular spasms at the base of the bladder so allowing urine to flow more freely. The other type, 5-a reductase inhibitors, shrinks the gland by blocking the effect of the male hormone, testosterone. Some of the bladder irritation can be reduced by certain drugs known as anti-cholinergics. Many of the a-blockers currently available may trigger a fall in blood pressure, especially in patients taking tablets to treat high blood pressure. A new type of a-blocker, called the a 1A blocker, avoids this problem. If you are treated with drugs, your doctor will monitor your condition carefully.
The operation to relieve the obstruction caused by an enlarged prostate is called 'prostatectomy'. Surgery will be necessary if the symptoms are severe, i.e. flow of urine is completely blocked or if there are complications (such as infection or bleeding). Surgery is very effective and two thirds of men who have surgery are pleased with the improvements they see within three months. The remaining third do have some improvement, but not all the symptoms improve. In some cases the surgery causes side-effects and a small number of patients find their symptoms are worse.
What Does An Operation Involve?
When deciding whether or not to have an operation, you need to discuss the pros and cons with your GP or the surgeon. If you decide to have surgery, the surgeon will tell you which operation will be most suitable for you. The operation performed 95 per cent of the time is the TURP (trans-urethral resection of the prostate). A slim telescope is carefully inserted up in the penis. This allows the surgeon to examine the prostate and the inside of the bladder. The surgeon may then use heat from an electric current to cut away pieces of the prostate which are blocking the flow of urine. These pieces are then washed out through the penis and sent away for further examination. If the prostate gland is very large, it may have to be removed through a cut in the lower abdomen. There are also other treatments such as removing the excess prostate tissue with laser treatment, or simply cutting the neck of the bladder to improve urine flow.
Write to the Royal College of Surgeons, 35/43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE, for a booklet.