Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is the enlargement of the prostate, a small gland located between the penis and the bladder. The urethra, which runs from the bladder to the penis to release urine from the body, runs through the center of the prostate.

If the prostate grows big enough, it can interfere with your ability to empty your bladder. The problem can get to a point where surgery is necessary. But BPH symptoms often can be treated with medications.

These medications don’t cure BPH, but they can help manage symptoms. Like all drugs, prescription BPH medications carry some potential side effects. Read on to learn about the benefits and risks of these medications, and talk to your doctor if you have any questions.

Alpha Blockers

Alpha blockers are commonly used to lower blood pressure. They help keep arteries open to allow better blood flow. These medications also help relax certain muscles, such as those of bladder outlet. This makes urination easier. With better urine flow, you’ll empty your bladder more completely.

It’s important to note that alpha blockers don’t shrink the prostate, so symptoms may become more serious or more difficult to manage if the prostate continues to grow. Nausea and headaches are common side effects of these medications

  • alfuzosin (Uroxatral)
  • terazosin (Hytrin)
  • doxazosin (Cardura)
  • tamsulosin (Flomax)

5-Alpha Reductase Inhibitors

5-alpha reductase inhibitors are often prescribed to men with especially big prostates. They can help shrink the prostate, and therefore ease BPH symptoms. They work by interfering with the hormones that contribute to prostate growth. The medications can take several months to reach their potential benefit.

These medications may not always reverse symptoms, because the size of the prostate isn’t always proportionate to the severity of the symptoms. Side effects can include nausea, headache, and a condition known as retrograde ejaculation, in which some of the semen moves back to the bladder instead of it all coming out the tip of the penis. Examples of these medications include:

  • finasteride (Proscar, Propecia)
  • dutasteride (Avodart)
  • dutasteride/tamsulosin (Jalyn)

Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors

These medications are marketed to treat erectile dysfunction (ED). But they also can be taken to help relieve symptoms caused by BPH. PDE-5 inhibitors cannot be taken with alpha blockers. They should also not be taken with heart medications known as nitrates, such as nitroglycerin, which are often prescribed to people with angina.

  • tadalifil (Cialis)
  • vardenafil (Levitra)
  • sildenafil (Viagra)

Combination Therapy

Some men achieve the best results with a medication therapy that includes alpha blockers and 5-alpha reductase inhibitors. However, the added benefits of taking both medications may be accompanied by a greater risk of experiencing side effects from one or both of the medications.