Sexual Health Q&A

What is prostatic artery embolization (PAE) for BPH?

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is another term for an enlarged prostate, a condition that affects many older men. BPH is often accompanied by lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS), such as difficulty urinating or needing to urinate more frequently. There are several types of treatments for BPH/LUTS. Scientists are now studying prostatic artery embolization (PAE), a new, minimally-invasive therapy that began in 2009.

When a man has BPH, his prostate gland grows larger. For this to happen, the prostate needs a steady supply of blood. PAE involves placing small beads (sometimes called microspheres) in the arteries that bring blood to the prostate. This decreases the flow of blood, causing the prostate to shrink and alleviating urinary problems.

The procedure is performed by a specialized radiologist called an interventional radiologist. The beads are injected through a catheter that is placed in an artery in the upper thigh.

Men who have a PAE procedure may need to stay in the hospital for one night, but can usually return to their daily activities within a few days.

There is limited data available on PAE’s safety and long-term effects, but studies so far have shown high success rates. Many men undergoing PAE see their symptoms improve fairly quickly and have few complications. The most common complication is bruising at the groin area. There is usually no impact on sexual function.

However, the procedure still needs further research to ensure that it is completely safe and will not damage surrounding organs such as the bladder or rectum. Long term studies are also needed to determine how effective the procedure is over time.

Surgeons performing PAE must be experienced and precise, as placing the beads in the wrong artery could have serious consequences.