Harvard Men's Health Watch

Anti-inflammatory drugs, the prostate, and the bladder

For young men, a full bladder is no big deal; a quick trip to the bathroom is all it takes to return to empty. But for many older gents, it's an altogether different matter. In most cases, the issue is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), an enlargement of the gland that pinches the urethra, slowing the flow of urine and often causing bothersome symptoms such as an urgent need to void, frequent urination, incomplete emptying of the bladder, dribbling, and nighttime urination.

The treatment of BPH has come a long way, thanks to major advances in medical and minimally invasive surgical therapies. There is also hope that experimental new treatments such as Botox injections will soon become available. But despite all these options, every man with BPH should avoid anything that might make the situation worse.

Medications are high on the list of potential culprits. The most common offenders are over-the-counter remedies for colds and allergies. Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine tighten the sphincter muscles at the base of the bladder, and antihistamines such as chlorpheniramine weaken the contractions of the bladder muscle. In some cases, these simple medications may make it impossible for a man to void. Doctors call it acute urinary retention. The bladder fills to capacity, often holding more than a quart of urine. A small amount of urine may force its way out, but the trickle is not enough to relieve the pressure, which is very painful.

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