What are alpha blockers and 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors in BPH treatment?

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Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematology & Oncology
In the treatment of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) alpha blockers are drugs that deal with the "going" problem by relaxing certain muscles in the prostate and urinary tract. The 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors are drugs that deal with the "growing" problem by reducing the size of the prostate. The 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors act slowly, taking a few months to have an effect. Indeed, you may not see the maximum benefit until you've been taking the medication for six months to a year. These drugs work best for men with large prostates. (Your doctor can give you a rough estimate of the size of your prostate by doing a digital rectal examination.)

Alpha blockers, at least in some men, reduce symptoms much more quickly. In general, alpha blockers are better at relieving urinary symptoms such as difficult or frequent urination. But 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors have a stronger track record for reducing the chance that you'll need surgery or will experience complications such as acute urinary retention that occur when the prostate gland is large. With this in mind, some doctors prescribe both kinds of drugs for men with large prostates.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.