Beyond prostate cancer — A look at prostate health

Prostate health…it’s a rarely talked-about subject. And even when it’s talked about, most of the time the conversation centers around prostate cancer. But that’s not the only prostate-related medical condition.

In fact, the most common condition is one you very likely haven’t heard of — benign prostatic hyperplasia, often referenced as BPH. BPH is the most common prostate health condition diagnosed in men age 50 and older.

We’re going to talk about BPH and how it impacts prostate health in this blog, but first let’s talk a bit about the prostate and how it functions.

How the prostate works

First things first, the anatomy of the prostate: The prostate is a walnut-sized muscular gland that sits right in front of the rectum and just below the bladder in men.

This tiny organ produces some of the ingredients in sperm and is vitally important to the function of the reproductive system. During ejaculation, the prostate contracts, closing off the opening to the bladder and pushing semen through the urethra.

The fluid released by the prostate, called prostatic fluid, contains a number of different ingredients, including an enzyme called “prostate-specific antigen.” Depending on your age, you may have had a PSA test done by your doctor to test your levels of this enzyme, which can help diagnose prostate cancer.

How BPH impacts prostate health

The prostate goes through a couple different growth spurts. The first is during puberty, when the prostate doubles in size. The second occurs beginning around age 25 — and the prostate may continue to grow gradually throughout life.

It’s during this second phase, particularly in older men, when BPH often occurs. In basic definition, BPH is an enlargement of the prostate gland.

As the gland enlarges, it can sometimes negatively impact prostate health. That’s because, as the prostate gets bigger, it can squeeze down on the urethra and cause the bladder wall to thicken. Over time, the bladder may weaken, losing the ability to empty completely.

BPH is incredibly common. In fact, by the time men turn 80, more than 90 percent of them will have developed the condition.

While any man can develop benign prostatic hyperplasia, it’s most common in those who:

  • Are 40 and older
  • Have a family history of the condition
  • Have chronic medical conditions like obesity, heart disease or diabetes
  • Live a sedentary lifestyle

The prostate health symptoms of BPH

Men who develop BPH may experience a wide range of bladder-related symptoms. These can include:

  • Urinary incontinence
  • An increase in urinary frequency
  • An inability to delay urination
  • Difficulty starting the urine stream
  • Weak or interrupted urine stream
  • Frequent urination at night
  • Pain during urination or ejaculation
  • Urine with an unusual scent or color

While you’d logically think that the size of the prostate would directly correlate with its impact on prostate health, that’s not actually true. In some cases, men with very enlarged prostates will experience few symptoms, while men with smaller enlargements will experience more symptoms.

Men experiencing any of the symptoms outlined above should talk with a doctor. However, there are some signs that prompt care is needed. If you experience a complete inability to urinate, painful and frequent need to urinate, blood in the urine, or discomfort in the lower abdomen, seek immediate medical attention.

Prostate health conditions

The most important fact about BPH is the first word in its name — benign. It is not a cancerous condition, and there are a number of treatment options, including lifestyle modifications, that may help.

Beyond BPH, there’s one other common noncancerous condition affecting prostate health. Prostatitis is an inflammation of the prostate gland that can cause a variety of symptoms, including fever, chills, blood in the urine, and urinary-related symptoms, like increased frequency and pain.

This condition is sometimes caused by an infection, so if you’re diagnosed with prostatitis, your doctor will first try to uncover the underlying cause. If an infection is found, an antibiotic will be prescribed to rid the body of the infection.

From there, he or she may recommend lifestyle modifications, pelvic muscle relaxation techniques, prostate massage, and sometimes medications including anti-inflammatories.

Prostate health conditions are common in men as they age. If you’re experiencing symptoms, talk with your doctor, who can make a diagnosis and recommend treatment options. Visit our website or call 423-778-5910 to learn more about Erlanger Urology.