What Are the Risk Factors for BPH?

Medically reviewed by Steven Kim, MD on November 10, 2015Written by Stepanie Watson on November 10, 2015

The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that typically doesn’t cause problems for men early in life. As you age, though, it begins to grow and may cause urinary symptoms. Some men are more likely than others to develop benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

While you can’t avoid certain factors that contribute to the condition, you can reign in others to lower your odds of getting BPH. It might be time to talk to your doctor if you have one or more of the common BPH risk factors.

What Is BPH?

The prostate is a gland located just under the bladder. As part of a man’s reproductive system, its main job is to add fluid to semen.

The prostate gets larger over time. If you have BPH, your enlarged prostate squeezes on your urethra. The urethra is the tube your urine travels through to get from the bladder out of your body. Pressure from the growing prostate makes it harder for urine to leave the body and prevents the bladder from completely emptying.

BPH causes your bladder to work harder to expel urine. That eventually weakens the bladder. Over time, other symptoms develop, such as an urgent need to go, a weak urine flow, and frequent urination.

What Are the Common Risk Factors for BPH?

Just about every man will develop an enlarged prostate if he lives long enough. While it’s rare for men in their early 40s or younger to have BPH, by their 80s, up to 90 percent of men will live with the condition, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

There are other risk factors besides age that may make you more likely to develop BPH, including:

Family History

BPH runs in families. You’re more likely to have prostate issues if your father or brother had them.

Ethnic Background

BPH can affect men of all ethnic backgrounds. However, a study in the Journal of Urology found that BPH risks were higher in black and Hispanic men than in white men. The reason for the increased risk might have to do with genetic differences or with metabolic diseases, which are more common in African Americans and Latinos.

Diabetes

Some research, including a study in the journal Differentiation, suggests diabetes can trigger prostate growth. The hormone insulin normally moves sugar from foods out of the bloodstream to be used for energy or stored in cells.

In people with type 2 diabetes, the body doesn’t respond as well to insulin. That causes a spike in blood sugar levels. When the pancreas pumps out more insulin to bring down blood sugar, that excess insulin stimulates the liver to produce more of a substance called insulin-like growth factor (IGF). IGF is believed to trigger prostate growth.

It’s also possible that the symptoms of diabetes and BPH simply overlap. Both conditions are more common with age and both cause problems such as frequent urination.

Heart Disease

Heart disease doesn’t cause BPH, but the same risks that contribute to heart problems, such as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, also cause prostate growth.

Obesity

Men who carry around extra body fat have higher levels of estrogen, a female hormone that can make the prostate grow. Obesity is part of a larger group of symptoms called metabolic syndrome, which is also linked to prostate growth.

Inactivity

Spending too much time on the couch could lead to prostate problems. Men who are inactive are more likely to develop BPH. Staying active also helps keep off excess weight, with is another BPH contributor.

Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction doesn’t cause BPH or vice versa, but the two conditions often go hand in hand. Many medicines used to treat BPH, including finasteride (Proscar), can make erection problems worse.

How to Prevent BPH

Many BPH risks, like age and family history, aren’t preventable. Others are under your control. One of the best ways to avoid prostate problems is to exercise. A half-hour of swimming, cycling, or walking on most days of the week might lower your likelihood of dealing with BPH symptoms. Exercise combined with diet will reduce your chances of becoming overweight or getting diabetes, two other BPH risk factors.

Talking to Your Doctor About BPH Risks

It’s important to be open with your doctor about any concerns you might have regarding your prostate. Talk about your risks and discuss ways to reduce the factors you can control. Ask plenty of questions and make sure you’re comfortable with the answers before you leave the doctor’s office.

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