Awareness of prostate health has come a long way since the days when comedians would confuse “prostate” with “prostrate”. Yet many men still aren’t sure what the prostate is, what its functions are, and how to have good prostate health.
What is it?
The prostate is a small gland in men that is part of the reproductive system. It’s about the shape and size of a walnut. The prostate rests below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It surrounds part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The prostate helps make semen, which carries sperm from the testicles when a man ejaculates.
As a man ages, the prostate can grow larger. When a man reaches the age of 40, the prostate gland might have increased from the size of a walnut to that of an apricot. By the time he reaches the age of 60, it might be the size of a lemon.
Because it surrounds part of the urethra, the enlarged prostate can squeeze the urethra and cause problems in the passing of urine. Typically, these problems don’t occur in men until they are aged 50 or older. They can, though, occur earlier.
An enlarged prostate is also called benign (non-cancerous) prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH. It is common and cannot be prevented. Age and a family history of BPH are risk factors. Eight out of every 10 men eventually develop an enlarged prostate. About 90% of men over the age of 85 will have BPH. About 30% of men will find their symptoms troublesome.
Symptoms of an enlarged prostate may include:
- Trouble with starting to urinate, or with urinating freely
- Having to urinate frequently, particularly at night
- Feeling that the bladder is not empty after urinating
- Feeling a sudden urge to urinate
- Having to stop and start repeatedly while urinating
- Having to strain to urinate
To maintain prostate health, it is important for men who have early symptoms of BPH to seek medical advice. BPH is a progressive disease. It can lead to serious, though rare, health problems, such as kidney or bladder damage.
Watchful waiting: patients who have an enlarged prostate but who are not suffering symptoms or whose symptoms are not troublesome may be advised by their doctor to merely get a checkup if symptoms develop.
Lifestyle changes: these could include drinking less at night and before bedtime, especially drinks containing alcohol or caffeine.
Drug therapy: two common treatments for BPH are alpha-blockers, which alleviate BPH symptoms, and 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, which help shrink the prostate. Many men take them together.
Surgery: generally used for men with severe symptoms who haven’t been helped by other treatment.