One of the most common problems in men over the age of 50 is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or an enlarged prostate. By age 60, more than 50 percent of the men have this problem. By age 85, the number climbs to 90 percent.

The purpose of the prostate is to produce fluid that aids in sperm transport. While its growth is thought to be an abnormal part of aging, the exact cause and purpose are poorly understood.

Risk Factors

  • Age — More common in men over 50 years of age
  • Heredity — A family history of BPH or enlarged prostate
  • Nationality — More common in Americans and Europeans


An obstructed, unstable bladder may lead to:

  • A weak or slow urinary stream
  • A feeling of incomplete bladder emptying
  • Difficulty starting urination
  • Urgency to urinate
  • Frequent urination
  • Getting up frequently at night to urinate
  • A urinary stream that starts and stops
  • Straining to urinate
  • Acute urinary retention (inability to urinate at all)
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Dangerous medical conditions such as kidney failure, infections, bleeding or stones

Detection and Diagnosis

Some or all of the following tests are used to confirm or rule out the presence of BPH or enlarged prostate:

  • Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) — Usually the first test performed, a doctor inserts a gloved and lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate. This examination allows the doctor to get a general idea of the size and condition of the prostate.
  • International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS) or AUA Symptom Index — A short questionnaire that asks about specific urinary symptoms associated with BPH or enlarged prostate and how often they occur.
  • Urinalysis — A laboratory test of your urine performed to rule out the presence of an infection or condition that may produce similar symptoms.
  • Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test — Used to help rule out prostate cancer as the cause of your symptoms. PSA is a protein produced by cells in the prostate and the level is elevated in the blood in men who have prostate cancer or BPH.

Once BPH or enlarged prostate is diagnosed, several other tests may be conducted to determine the severity of the condition:

  • Urinary flow study — This measures the strength and amount of your urine flow.
  • Imaging tests — Ultrasound may be performed to estimate the size of the prostate and also may be used to look for prostate stones, kidney stones or obstructions or a tumor.
  • Cystoscopy — A cystoscope (a thin tube containing a lens with a light system) is inserted into the urethra so the doctor can detect problems, including prostate enlargement or the development of stones in your bladder.
  • Urodynamic studies — Your doctor may recommend a series of tests to measure bladder pressure and function if he/she suspects your symptoms might be related to a bladder problem or a neurological problem, and not BPH or enlarged prostate.
  • Post-void residual volume test — Ultrasound imaging is used to determine whether you can empty your bladder.

Treatment Options

Aquablation Therapy

Aquablation therapy is a different type of treatment for an enlarged prostate. It’s an advanced, minimally invasive treatment that uses the power of water delivered with robotic precision to provide long-lasting symptom relief with low rates of irreversible complications, regardless of prostate size or shape. GW Hospital is one of the first hospitals in Washington, DC to offer this therapy.

Aquablation therapy is performed by the AquaBeam Robotic System, the first FDA-cleared, surgical robot utilizing automated tissue resection for the treatment of lower urinary tract symptoms due to BPH. It combines real-time, multi-dimensional imaging, automated robotic technology, and heat-free waterjet ablation technology for targeted, controlled, and immediate removal of prostate tissue. Aquablation therapy offers predictable and reproducible outcomes, independent of prostate anatomy, prostate size, or surgeon experience.

Aquablation therapy is a resective procedure, meaning that the prostate tissue causing symptoms is removed. No incision is made, as the prostate is reached through the urethra. The treatment is performed in a hospital and is done under spinal or general anesthesia. The procedure typically takes less than an hour and involves an overnight stay.


Several drugs are FDA-approved to relieve common symptoms of an enlarged prostate, including alpha blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. Each works differently. They either shrink the enlarged prostate or stop the prostate cell growth. Doctors use the BPH index to gauge how the patient responds to medication.


For most men with very enlarged prostates, surgery can relieve symptoms, but there are risks and benefits with each type of operation.

  • TURP (transurethral resection of the prostate) — This is the most common surgery for enlarged prostate, and considered to bring the greatest reduction in symptoms. Only the tissue growth that is pressing against the urethra is removed to allow urine to flow easily. The procedure involves an electrical loop that cuts tissue and seals blood vessels. Most doctors suggest using TURP whenever possible, as it is less traumatic than open surgery and requires shorter recovery time. With the TURP procedure, patients can expect to have retrograde ejaculation afterwards. This is a condition in which a man ejaculates backward into the bladder instead of through the urethra. Retrograde ejaculation generally isn't painful. It shouldn't be an issue unless fertility is a concern. Other possible side effects: blood loss requiring transfusion, painful urination, recurring urinary tract infections, bladder narrowing and blood in the urine. After TURP, the odds of erection problems range from 1 to 5 percent; 85 percent of the patients will have retrograde ejaculation. However, this is often temporary.

  • TUIP (transurethral incision of the prostate) — This procedure involves making cuts in the prostate instead of removing prostate tissue. These cuts reduce pressure on the urethra, making urination easier. Patients go home the same day, and wear a catheter for a day or two. Symptom relief is slower with TUIP, compared with TURP. However, most men are satisfied with their symptom relief from this. Also, retrograde ejaculation is less common and less severe than after TURP. Risk of erectile problems is minimal.

  • Greenlight Laser Surgery — This procedure uses a high energy vaporizing laser to destroy prostate tissue. It is done under general anesthesia and as an outpatient stay at the hospital. It provides immediate relief of symptoms, yet men may suffer from painful urination for a few weeks. In general, this procedure causes less blood loss, and side effects can include retrograde ejaculation.

  • Open Prostate Surgery (Simple Prostatectomy) — When a transurethral procedure cannot be used, open surgery (which requires an incision in the abdomen) may be used. This allows the surgeon to remove tissue in the prostate. Open prostatectomy typically is done when the prostate gland is greatly enlarged, when there is bladder damage, if there are bladder stones or if the urethra is narrowed. The inner part of the prostate is removed. This surgery is done under general or spinal anesthesia and recovery can take a few weeks to several months. Side effects are similar to TURP, including blood loss requiring a transfusion, urinary incontinence, erection problems and retrograde ejaculation.

Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if minimally invasive surgery is right for you.