Just as menopause remains a relatively taboo topic among women in their forties and fifties, the topic of prostate health is equally as sensitive among men of a similar age.
Such topics, however, shouldn’t be ones to cause embarrassment or fear. As with most things in life, the more things are addressed and talked about, the more they become accepted as simply a part of our natural aging process.
So, what exactly is the prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland forming part of a man’s sex organs. It is located just in front of the rectum and just below the bladder.
The role of the prostate is to make fluid that goes into semen – which is a mix of sperm and prostate fluid.
What causes prostate problems?
Doctors do not always know the exact cause of prostate problems; however, issues are most common in men aged over 50 as the prostate gland tends to enlarge with age. The gland can become swollen or enlarged due to conditions such as prostatitis or prostate cancer.
It’s thought that 1 in 3 of all men over 50 will experience symptoms of prostate enlargement at some stage, such as difficulty starting or stopping urinating, a weak flow of urine, a feeling of being unable to empty the bladder, or needing to pass urine more frequently (especially at night).
Certain lifestyle adjustments can be made to ease some of the symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate, such as reducing the number of fluids you drink (especially tea, coffee and alcohol), as well as the use of certain medications to help reduce the size of your prostate and relax the muscles of your bladder.
What is prostatitis?
Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland. The cause of prostatitis depends on whether you have chronic prostatitis or bacterial prostatitis.
Doctors do not know the exact cause of chronic prostatitis, however, there has been lots of research conducted, which indicates that it could be down to an infection of tiny organisms. Other causes could include chemicals in the urine, a body’s response to a previous urinary tract infection, or nerve damage in the pelvic area. Most of the time doctors don’t find any infection in men with chronic prostatitis.
Unlike prostate enlargement or prostate cancer, prostatitis can develop in younger men and is most common in those aged 30 – 50.
The symptoms can include pain in the lower back, pelvis, and genitals, pain when urinating, pain when ejaculating and pain in the perineum area.
Although prostatitis can be extremely uncomfortable and painful to deal with, the good news is that it can often be treated using a combination of painkillers, complementary therapies and a type of medication called an alpha-blocker, which can help to relax the muscles of the prostate and bladder neck. Most men recover from prostatitis within a few weeks or months, although some will continue to have symptoms for longer.
What is prostate cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men in the UK. The chances of developing it increase with age and it mainly affects men over the age of 65.
More than 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. That’s 129 men every day. However, the survival rate of those diagnosed is 78%. This means that if we are open and accepting about prostate issues, then there is a better chance of detecting and diagnosing them.
It is not fully known why the chance of developing prostate cancer increases with age, however, the risk is also increased depending on other factors such as family history and ethnicity. If your father or brother had prostate cancer, or your mother had breast cancer then there is a chance you are more likely to develop it too. Studies show that prostate cancer is also more common among men of African and African-Caribbean descent.
Many of the symptoms of prostate cancer are similar to those of the other prostate issues mentioned above, so a lot of the time it can be hard to distinguish the diagnosis.
Symptoms may include the urge to urinate more frequently, needing to rush to the toilet quickly, difficulty in emptying the bladder, a weak flow of urine, feeling that your bladder has not emptied, or finding blood in your urine or semen.
The outlook for prostate cancer is usually good because, unlike many other types of cancer, it usually progresses at a slow rate. It does not always necessarily need to be treated immediately, and sometimes, it may initially just be monitored and treated only if it gets worse.
Can prostate problems cause other problems?
As well as the symptoms we’ve mentioned above, prostate problems can affect men in many different ways too.
The prostate problems could affect the man’s ability to have sex or maintain an erection, leading to a reduced sex drive or decreased sexual satisfaction. This in turn can affect relationships and mental health.
The symptoms and pain suffered could also cause anxiety and stress, as well as interference with sleep and usual lifestyle activities such as sport and exercise.
Additional problems will depend on the type of prostate issue diagnosed and may vary from man to man.
Arranging a physical exam
A physical exam by a GP should help diagnose the cause of a prostate problem. During a physical exam, the doctor might check the body, look for fluids leaking from the urethra, check for swollen or tender lymph nodes in the groin area and examine the prostate using a digital rectal exam. For a digital rectal exam, the doctor slides a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to feel the prostate. It gives the doctor a general idea of the size and condition of the prostate and is not a painful examination to endure.
From here, the GP should be able to diagnose the particular issue, decide on the best course of action and advise on how to proceed.
It’s important to organise regular prostate screenings to check for prostate cancer from the age of 50 onwards, as well as looking out for the symptoms mentioned above. Remember that some men with prostate cancer will show no symptoms at all.
Several medications, complementary therapies, lifestyle changes, and surgical options are available to help reduce the effects of living with an enlarged prostate. And with a holistic treatment program, men can usually maintain a regular sex life too.
In my next article this month we will look at these options in more detail, but in the meantime, if you want to get in contact to discuss a recent prostate diagnosis, I would be more than happy to hear from you.
Contact me on email@example.com or give me a call on 07787 831275.