Harvard Perspectives on Prostate Disease

Stress and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

Science shows there may be a connection

Men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) often find the condition stressful, and it's easy to understand why. Urinary urgency that triggers a frantic hunt for a bathroom will jangle even the most relaxed fellow, and nighttime urination that interrupts sleep can only add to mental distress. If the symptoms of BPH can cause stress, is the reverse also true? Can the stress of recent stock market losses and the need to postpone retirement, for example, contribute to BPH or worsen its symptoms? Might stress affect the prostate in other ways?

At first, the idea might seem far-fetched. But doctors have learned that mental stress can have a hand in many medical conditions, ranging from palpitations, heart attacks, and hypertension to asthma, heartburn, colitis, and skin rashes. Even so, the prostate has long been considered exempt from psychic influences. Two reports may begin to modify that view — and spark additional research on the connection between stress and prostate health.

Key points

  • Stress can worsen symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) such as having trouble emptying the bladder.

  • Shifts in hormone levels or the involvement of the sympathetic nervous system may explain the connection between stress and BPH.

  • Stress management techniques, such as exercise, breath focus, body scan, proper nutrition, and self-nurturing, may ease symptoms of BPH.

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