Long after those awkward puberty days, men may have another growth spurt to look forward to – or not. As men grow older, they probably won’t grow any taller, but their prostates may grow larger. During puberty, sex hormones fuel prostate growth to an average of 20 grams in adult men. When men are in their 30s, the gland undergoes a second growth spurt and continues to get larger as they age, sometimes doubling in mass by their 70s. For men, prostate changes could mean urinary changes that may come with potential problems like frequent urination, urinary hesitancy and urinary tract infections.
An enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), is the most common problem faced by men over 50. The American Urological Association (AUA) reports that more than half of males have BPH by the age of 60 and up to 90% have it by the time they’re 85.
You may be thinking, “So my prostate is larger – what’s the big deal?” Well, your prostate wraps around your urethra, the tube that carries urine out of your body. If it grows too large, it can block the flow of urine through the urethra. An enlarged prostate essentially squeezes the urethra, narrowing it so that the bladder has to work harder to push urine through the body.
Working in overdrive, the bladder muscle grows stronger, thicker and overly sensitive – contracting even when there’s very little urine to push out – which can cause frequent urges to urinate. Compare that to a healthy urinary system: Your bladder should be able to hold up to 2 cups of urine comfortably for two to five hours.
At a certain point, even the most muscular bladders could start struggling to push urine through a narrowed urethra. When the bladder fails to completely empty, it puts you at risk for developing urinary tract infections.
Over time, urine trapped in the bladder can lead to more serious problems including:
- Bladder stones.
- Bloody urine.
- Acute urinary retention, or an inability to urinate, is a medical emergency. If you cannot urinate at all, please see a doctor immediately.
- Bladder or kidney damage (in rare cases).
Is Your Prostate Enlarged?
Generally, early symptoms of BPH could include:
- A weak, slow or dribbling urine stream
- Feeling that your bladder isn’t empty, even right after urinating
- Difficulty starting urination
- A frequent and urgent need to urinate, sometimes waking you up several times at night
- Blood in the urine
Your doctor can best help you diagnose and treat an enlarged prostate gland. Doctors are equipped and trained to test for BPH in several ways, including a digital rectal exam, blood and imaging tests, a urinalysis or an examination using a cystoscope.
Managing Your Prostate
Sometimes, men don’t realize they’re having urinary problems. Other times, men simply wait to consult a doctor until their symptoms start to take a serious toll on their quality of life. It’s best to see your primary care physician anytime you notice urinary changes or problems, as severe cases of BPH – or any condition, for that matter – lead to more serious health risks and problems if left alone.
Diagnosis doesn’t always mean medication, surgery or other complicated procedures. In fact, many urinary problems can be managed with simpler lifestyle changes or medication. If your symptoms are mild, your doctor may even suggest waiting before starting treatment, while continuing to monitor your condition (a process called “watchful waiting”).
Regardless, it’s always best to talk to your doctor about urinary changes that cause inconvenience, discomfort or pain. Your doctor can help you understand what your body needs, and together, you can decide what’s best for you.
Dr. Oliver Wu is a board-certified Family Medicine physician welcoming new patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Clear Lake Clinic. He believes in working together as a team to create a personalized care plan to meet patients’ individual goals. Dr. Wu’s clinical interests include adult medicine, preventive care, men’s health, diabetes and hypertension.