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If you’ve ever watched the commercials during a baseball game, you know that many drugs treat erectile dysfunction, or ED. Those medications (Cialis, Levitra, Staxyn, Stendra, and Viagra) all work the same way, by raising levels of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps the blood vessels in the penis open and relax, which is key to getting and keeping an erection.

Relaxing blood vessels, it turns out, can also help some men who have benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), another name for an enlarged prostate.

Treating Urinary Troubles

One of the most common symptoms of BPH is lower urinary tract problems: trouble urinating, a frequent need to urinate, more urination at night, or straining while urinating.

In many clinical trials, men with enlarged prostates saw an improvement after taking ED medications. But we still don't understand exactly how ED medications treat an enlarged prostate.

Just as the ED medications relax blood vessels in the penis to help with erections, researchers think they may also help relax the bladder muscles and nerve cells, easing the symptoms of BPH. Other studies suggest that ED medications may also help men who can’t completely empty their bladders.

Tadalafil (Cialis) is the only ED medication approved to treat BPH. It reduces urinary symptoms as well as lowers the chance of needing prostate surgery.

Help for an Enlarged Prostate

ED medications aren't the only option to treat an enlarged prostate. While they can help with symptoms, at least one study found that they work even better combined with other BPH medications.

ED medications don't actually shrink the prostate, though. Also, symptoms of an enlarged prostate are similar to other serious conditions, including bladder cancer. So if you're already taking ED medications and have urinary problems, see your doctor.

Even though ED medications can be very effective, they’re not for everyone. If you have another condition, such as heart disease or diabetes or are overweight, ED medications might not be the answer. Men who take nitrates for other conditions, such as heart pain, can't take ED medications, because they can lower your blood pressure too much.