August 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

To Your Health: Keith Roach

Is the prostate to blame for his slow-to-empty bladder?

Dear Dr. Roach: I would like your opinion on enlarged prostate. My primary-care doctor sent me for a blood test and said my PSA number was too high, then sent me to a urologist. He said my bladder is not emptying and that I am having urine retention in the bladder. After one week of medication (Rapaflo), I had a catheter inserted for another week. He measured the urine in the bladder, and it was 880 ml. Now he is suggesting surgery. Is he going too fast? What are your thoughts on the procedure and side effects? Will this correct the problem?

D.G.

Dear D.G.: The bladder is drained via a tube called the urethra, and in men, the urethra runs right through the middle of the prostate. As men get older, the prostate commonly enlarges, and this can cause resistance to flow. The symptoms can range from mildly annoying to complete obstruction. Complete obstruction is an emergency, since the kidneys will fail within a few days of being unable to drain urine at all.

But the obstruction doesnít need to be complete in order to cause kidney damage. Itís the high pressure in the urethra, bladder and ureters (the tubes that allow urine to flow from the kidneys to the bladder) that causes kidney damage. Placing a catheter allows the urine to drain at low pressure if the problem is in the urethra.

Normal bladder capacity is between 300-400 ml. At 880 ml, you would experience very abnormal bladder drainage and would be at high risk for ongoing kidney damage. Thus, I completely agree with your urologist that something, probably surgical, needs to be done quickly.

Itís not completely clear to me whether your inability to drain the bladder is due to obstruction from enlarged prostate, even though an elevated PSA suggests this might be the case. Itís also pos≠sible that there is something wrong with the nerves that go to or from the bladder.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.