A transurethral resection of the prostate is a good operation to relieve bladder outflow obstruction and has a low incidence of complications. However, recent work suggests that many men with symptoms may not require an operation, and it can probably be delayed in a majority for many years. This may be particularly important in old and frail patients. Many men with outflow obstruction have irritative symptoms such as urgency, frequency and nocturia; these could be treated with anticholinergics, provided they have normal flow rates and small or absent residual urine volumes. Pharmacological treatment to relieve outflow obstruction is disappointing. There may be some benefit from alpha-adrenoreceptor antagonists, but the place for 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors is still unsure. All drugs have side effects which are unacceptable in patients who are not bothered by their urinary symptoms and can wait for active treatment.