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What Are the Causes of Enlarged Prostate?

By Susan DeFeo

Besides death and taxes, a man who lives long enough can look forward to adding prostate enlargement to his list of certainties in life. According to the National Kidney and Urological Disease Information Clearinghouse, prostate enlargement is the most prevalent prostate problem for men over age 50. Due to the pervasiveness of the condition, it is wise to know the symptoms and causes of the disease.


The condition of having a non-cancerous enlarged prostate is also referred to as benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. In BPH, new prostate cells grow while the old ones fail to die off, causing an abnormal overgrowth within the prostate gland. While the prostate gland is normally the size of a walnut, greatly enlarged prostates may grow to five times that size.


Common symptoms of an enlarged prostate include urinary frequency, urinary hesitancy and straining. Dribbling urine after voiding and nocturia, or getting up often during the night to urinate, are additional symptoms. Some men experience intermittency, a stream that starts and stops during voiding. Still others report a feeling of incomplete emptying after voiding.


The prostate gland grows larger due to an increase in the number of cells. Although not fully understood, hormones appear to be a strong suspect in causing this condition. All men have a small amount of the female hormone estrogen in their body. The male hormone testosterone seems to decrease with age while estrogen increases. Overgrowth in the prostate may be triggered by this hormonal imbalance.


BPH increases dramatically with age. Unlike other body parts that stop growing at maturity and may even shrink with age, the prostate gland goes through a second growth spurt beginning in middle age. According to Peter T. Scardino, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Urology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, 20 percent of men age 40, 60 percent of men age 60 and 90 percent of men in their 80s have enlarged prostates. By 2020, about 11.2 million American men yearly will seek treatment for the disease.

Injuries and Drugs

Obstruction of blood flow and oxygen supply caused by blood vessel injuries in the prostate gland may sometimes lead to excess cell growth and enlarged prostates. Some believe that certain over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications can stimulate cell growth in the gland as well.


While still controversial, diet may be an indicator of BPH. Countries that consume high amounts of soy products have lower rates of the condition. Lab animal and human studies show that red meat, sugars and dairy products may stimulate cell growth while fiber, tomatoes and foods with vitamin E, such as sunflower seeds, wheat germ and spinach, may inhibit such overgrowth.

Other Risk Factors

Although not substantiated by medical research, sexual activity, general health, exercise, race and exposure to toxins have all been tossed around as possible causes of BPH. The disease may run in families but the underlying genetic explanation is not clear.

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