Symptoms of an enlarged prostate become more common with age and 50% of men over the age of 50 experience them. These symptoms come on gradually, and sometimes it is not the person suffering from the problem who sees the first signs. Dr. Jen Tan discusses what to do if you suspect your partner has an enlarged prostate, and how you can help after this diagnosis has been confirmed.
The prostate is a gland that sits underneath the male bladder, surrounding the urethra. As a man becomes older, the prostate can naturally begin to enlarge. Both the increasing pressure on the bladder and the 'squeezing' of the urethra can lead to urinary problems.
One of the first symptoms you might notice is that your partner has to get up at night to urinate – he wakes you up and you stay awake whilst he tumbles back into bed and sleeps soundly. You may also notice that he needs the toilet more frequently during the day, interrupting days out and travelling.
Before you bring up the issue, you may want to consult our Enlarged Prostate Symptom Check.
A visit to the doctor should be a simple affair and in most cases, a diagnosis can be made from the history alone. Many cases of prostate enlargement can be easily treated, and if attended to early, the need for more inconvenient forms of treatment (such as surgery) may be avoided.
While the enlarged prostate and prostate cancer are quite different conditions, it is important to see a doctor to rule out this possibility. To exclude more serious conditions, a doctor may recommend an internal examination of the prostate gland (through the back passage) and blood tests.
Once the diagnosis is made, a decision on what to do next will need to be made. Treatment options for an enlarged prostate can range from ‘doing nothing’, to prescribed medicines and surgery. Each option will have its place and decisions will be made depending on the severity of symptoms and the potential for the treatment to lead to side effects. For more information, read our article on enlarged prostate treatment.
The use of Saw Palmetto to treat an enlarged prostate is gaining popularity in the UK. However, its use is well below the level seen in European countries such as Switzerland and Germany, where these medicines are routinely prescribed by doctors to treat the symptoms seen during the early stages of an enlarged prostate.
Saw Palmetto is a small shrub which grows mainly in Florida. The plant produces berries similar in shape and size to olives, rich in plant oil, including a specific compound known as β-sistosterol. It is the oil from the berries which is used medicinally to treat an enlarged prostate.
In the UK, the Department of Health has granted registrations (or licences) to Saw Palmetto products which have been manufactured to pharmaceutical standards, for the treatment of symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
Saw Palmetto may be used in the following ways:
as an alternative to the ‘watchful waiting’ approach
If the patient wishes to avoid the use of prescribed medication
to help improve symptoms before surgery
to help relieve symptoms that have returned after surgery
It should not be used if other types of prostate medication (α-blockers and 5-α-reductase inhibitors) are already being taken.