Benign prostate enlargement

Benign prostate enlargement (BPE) is the term for an enlarged prostate. It’s a condition that can affect how you pass urine (pee). BPE is common in men aged over 50. It is not a cancer and it isn't usually a serious threat to health.

Symptoms of benign prostate enlargement

The prostate is a small gland, in the pelvis, between the penis and bladder.

If the prostate becomes enlarged, it can put pressure on the bladder and urethra. The urethra is the tube through which urine passes.

This can affect how you pee and may cause:  

  • difficulty starting to pee
  • a frequent need to pee
  • difficulty fully emptying your bladder
  • difficulty stopping at the end of peeing (with leaking of pee)

This group of symptoms is now described as ‘lower urinary tract symptoms’ (LUTS). In some men, the symptoms are mild and don't need treatment. In others, they can cause problems.

Many men worry that having an enlarged prostate means they have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer. This isn't the case.

The risk of prostate cancer is no greater for men with an enlarged prostate than it is for men without an enlarged prostate.

Causes of benign prostate enlargement

The cause of prostate enlargement is unknown. BPE is believed to be linked to hormonal changes as a man gets older.

The balance of hormones in your body changes as you get older and this may cause your prostate gland to grow.

Diagnosing benign prostate enlargement

You might have several different tests to find out what could be causing your symptoms, as other conditions (apart from BPE) can cause LUTS.

Your GP may do some of these tests, like a urine test. Others tests may need to be carried out at a hospital.

Treating benign prostate enlargement

Treatment for an enlarged prostate will depend on the severity of your symptoms.

If you have mild symptoms, you won't usually need immediate treatment but you'll have regular prostate check-ups.

You'll probably also be advised to make lifestyle changes, such as:

Medication to reduce the size of the prostate and relax your bladder may be recommended to treat moderate to severe symptoms of BPE.

Surgery is usually only considered if your symptoms of BPE are more severe, or if they have failed to respond to medication.

Complications of prostate enlargement

Benign prostate enlargement can sometimes lead to complications such as:

Acute urinary retention (AUR) is the sudden inability to pass any urine.

Symptoms of AUR include:

  • suddenly not being able to pee at all 
  • severe lower abdominal pain
  • swelling of the bladder that you can feel with your hands

Go immediately to your nearest emergency department if you experience the symptoms of AUR.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published November 2017

This page is due for review June 2020

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