Benign enlargement of the prostate gland is something that occurs very commonly in older men (including me). Other terms you may hear referring to this are “benign prostatic hypertrophy,” “benign prostatic hyperplasia,” or “BPH.” This is not prostate cancer and can be readily detected and treated.
Symptoms of Benign Prostate Enlargement
The prostate gland lies inside the pelvis between the bladder and the penis, and the urethra (the tube from your bladder through the penis which you use for urination) passes right through the prostate gland. Thus, diffuse enlargement of this gland can encroach on the urethra making it both difficult and sometimes uncomfortable to urinate. Common symptoms people have with this condition include:
- Feeling you must urinate more frequently than in the past, including having to wake up at night to do so.
- Feeling that you don’t completely empty your bladder when you urinate (only a small volume comes out) and feeling that you must strain to urinate.
- Having a less forceful urinary stream and having to take longer times to urinate.
- Urine dribbling after urination (incontinence).
- You may occasionally get a bladder infection due to a buildup of bacteria in the bladder and urethra which cannot be adequately flushed out.
My Personal Story
The prostate growth is usually so gradually slow (occurring over years) that many patients adapt to the symptoms and don’t fully notice that they have a problem. They may just attribute the above symptoms to “regular aging.” Thus, this can slowly creep up on you, as it did with me. I noticed over several months that I seemed to be going to the bathroom more often and waking up at night, occasionally multiple times, to urinate. I thought it was something I could just “tough out”, until one day while rushing to get to a meeting I became very short of breath and very tired. I therefore called my primary care physician who had me get some blood tests, and later paged me telling me I had kidney failure. He sent me directly to the emergency room, where upon examining me, they found I had retained 2 liters of urine in my bladder, and that the backup pressure from the bladder was starting to destroy my kidneys. I was obviously shocked! To make a long story short, they successfully treated my condition with catheter insertions into my bladder (never a comfortable procedure) and I eventually had minimally invasive laser surgery to remove excess prostate tissue. They also looked for any prostate cancer which I did not have. Thankfully this was all done in time so that my kidney function returned to normal. I have not had any significant urinary problems since.
Prostate Enlargement Can Lead to Other Issues
I mention this because I wonder how many men let his common condition creep up on them and don’t get medical care until their kidneys are irreversibly damaged and they need to be on dialysis. Prostate enlargement can also lead to some bladder infections which can spread to the kidneys and cause serious generalized infections. There are now multiple ways to treat this common condition (including some drugs which can help). The take home point is: if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor, and get checked out. Kidney damage due to prostate enlargement can be easily fixed. Also, there are other disease states you may not suspect (e.g., diabetes) which can cause these symptoms.