An enlarged prostate gland and incontinence

Some men with an enlarged prostate gland (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH for short) eventually start to experience urinary incontinence, the involuntary discharge of urine. The incontinence can be related to overactive bladder, one of the changes in bladder function caused by BPH.

Normally, the brain says "time to go" when your bladder is only partially full. That gives you a fair warning to find a place to relieve yourself. When you decide to let go, a valve called the urinary sphincter opens to allow the bladder to drain. Muscles in the bladder wall squeeze inward to empty the storage tank.

But with overactive bladder, the bladder muscles contract on their own, with little warning. This results in a powerful urge to urinate. If a man is unable to hold his urine until he reaches a bathroom, the result can be anything from a small leak to soaked garments.

Urinary incontinence can significantly impair a man's quality of life. It may become very hard to sit through a lengthy meeting. Aisle seats become a necessity so there's a quick escape to the bathroom. It may become necessary to wear absorbent pads to contain accidents.

To learn more about BPH, its causes, symptoms and treatments, read Living Better with Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia, an online guide from Harvard Medical School.

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