What is involved in the physical exam for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)?

Updated: Feb 19, 2021
  • Author: Levi A Deters, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
  • Print

Conduct a focused physical examination to assess the suprapubic area for signs of bladder distention and a neurological examination for sensory and motor deficits.

The digital rectal examination (DRE) is an integral part of the evaluation in men with presumed BPH. During this portion of the examination, prostate size and contour can be assessed, nodules can be evaluated, and areas suggestive of malignancy can be detected. 

Decreased anal sphincter tone or the lack of a bulbocavernosus muscle reflex may indicate an underlying neurological disorder.

The prostate is examined using the index finger of the dominant hand. The finger is placed through the anus after relaxation of the anal sphincter, and the prostate is palpated circumferentially (analogous to a windshield wiper movement).

In general, an estimation of the number of index finger pads that one can sweep over the rectal surface of the prostate during DRE is a useful way for non-urologist examiners to communicate estimated gland size. For example, one can report the prostate size as "2-3 fingerbreadths wide" when charting in the medical record or communicating with a colleague. Most asymptomatic men have glands of 2 fingerbreadths or less.  Anecdotally, each fingerbreadth correlates to approximately 15-20 g of tissue. The normal prostate volume in a young man is approximately 20 g.

In addition, pelvic floor tone, the presence or absence of fluctuance (ie, prostate abscess), and pain sensitivity of the gland (prostatodynia/prostatitis) can be assessed.

A more precise volumetric determination can be made using transrectal ultrasonography (TRUS) of the prostate.

Did this answer your question?
Additional feedback? (Optional)
Thank you for your feedback!