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What does the prostate do? What causes prostate problems? From the basics of men’s prostate health to more advanced topics, here’s everything you need to know about the prostate in one simple guide.
Men’s prostate health is a major part of their overall wellness, but the topic is often spoken about in hushed tones or not at all. Whether you currently experience prostate problems, or are starting from scratch with questions like “what does the prostate do” or “what’s good for prostate health”, this ultimate guide has all the knowledge you need in plain English, all in one place.
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Most men are somewhat aware of the basic anatomy and function of the prostate, but how much do you really know about the prostate compared to other important organs? Considering that men’s prostate health is a large component of male health in general, a decently strong foundation of knowledge is key.
Let’s start with the basics. The prostate is a small, muscular, elastic gland located below the bladder that acts as the switch between urination and ejaculation. It surrounds the urethra, and is typically about the size of a walnut, weighing about 11 grams on average. Even with this bit of fundamental knowledge, you’ll have a better answer to “what is a prostate” than a lot of men out there.
Other base-level questions like “what is the function and purpose of the prostate?”are even harder for a lot of men to answer. The prostate’s function is really quite simple, and relates mainly to sexual health. It produces a fluid that combines with sperm cells from the testicles and other fluids from different glands in order to produce semen.
The muscles that make up the prostate are also responsible for the process of ejaculation, and ensure that the urethra is closed off during that process.
With the fundamental questions of “what is a prostate” and “what does the prostate do” now answered, let’s move onto one that’s even more relevant to all men’s prostate health: what causes prostate problems?
What is BPH?: Any discussion of men’s prostate health will include BPH as a main topic. An enlargement of the prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is a common issue for many men as they get older. According to an overview from the NIH, 50-60% of men in their 60’s and 80-90% of men over 70 experience BPH.
Enlargement of the prostate over time is normal, in the sense that the prostate typically does grow throughout a man’s life. But, when the prostate grows to the point of obstructing urinary flow, it can become a problem.
BPH Symptoms: The symptoms of an enlargement of the prostate are primarily related to urination, due to the fact that the prostate surrounds the urethra. According to the Mayo Clinic, BPH symptoms include difficulty urinating, frequent urination, dribbling, waking up often to urinate, and trouble emptying your bladder.1 As the question of “what causes prostate problems” shifts slightly to “what problems can the prostate cause”, you’ll notice a common theme of urinary issues.
What is Prostatitis?: Another major pillar of men’s prostate health, prostatitis also involves enlargement of the prostate, but due to swelling and inflammation, rather than growth over time. It affects 10-15% of American men.2
There are several types of prostatitis: acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis are caused by infections that inflame the prostate, whereas chronic nonbacterial prostatitis (also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome) is swelling not caused by infection. It’s important to notice that, even when looking at a single condition, “what causes prostate problems” can have several answers.
Prostatitis Symptoms: According to the Mayo Clinic, prostatitis symptoms include pain and/or discomfort during urination or ejaculation, bloody or cloudy urine, pain in the pelvic area, and signs of an infection like fever and nausea.3
What is Prostate Cancer?: This is the most serious condition related to men’s prostate health, and is defined as a tumor in the prostate that may spread to other parts of the body. Regular prostate exams and PSA (prostate-specific antigen) tests may be used by your doctor to detect irregularities. PSA is a protein produced by prostate cells; the PSA test checks for elevated PSA levels in the blood, which may be indicative of cancer, or may be the result of a benign condition like BPH or prostatitis.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 12.1% of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Men between the ages of 65-74 are at highest risk, accounting for 40% of new cases. Men 55-64 are also at high risk, making up about 32% of new cases. After age 75, that number drops to 15%; after age 84, it falls to 4%.
Prostate Cancer Symptoms: According to the CDC, Urinary symptoms similar to the ones present in BPH and prostatitis, blood in urine or semen, trouble achieving an erection, and persistent pain in the back, hips, or pelvis may be signs of prostate cancer.4 Since symptoms are shared with less serious prostate conditions, it’s important to visit your doctor to see if something like a PSA test is needed to investigate the causes of your symptoms.
The risk of prostate cancer highlights the true importance of knowing what causes prostate problems, and how to recognize the different types.
It’s worth quickly noting some of the sexual symptoms that may accompany prostate problems:
When it comes to prostate problems, you should always begin by talking with your doctor to pinpoint the causes of your symptoms.
With a strong foundation of what the prostate does and what causes prostate problems, the last important question in our overview of men’s prostate health becomes “what is good for prostate health?”. Here are some facts about common medical treatments, as well as tips for things you can do to better your prostate health at home.
There are both minimally invasive and more intensive surgical procedures that may be used to treat BPH and, less frequently, prostatitis. Some common minimally invasive procedures are:
Other surgical procedures include:
For acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis (not chronic nonbacterial prostatitis… remember: what causes prostate problems can have multiple answers!), antibiotics are the most commonly prescribed treatment option. They’re used to eliminate the bacteria causing the swelling and inflammation of the prostate, thereby alleviating symptoms.
Sometimes non-prescription drugs like NSAID pain relievers (e.g. ibuprofen) are used to help reduce the pain and swelling associated with both prostatitis and BPH. Both medical procedures and medications are important pieces of the men’s prostate health discussion, and of discussions you may have with your doctor.
While home remedies are rarely the answer for long-term treatment, the Mayo Clinic recommends a number of solutions that can help increase your comfort when suffering from BPH or prostatitis symptoms:2
We all know that diet and exercise are crucial to overall health, but it’s important to note that their impact extends to prostate health. Some of the answers to our earlier question of “what causes prostate problems?” can be remedied simply by leading a healthier lifestyle. Some important tips to remember are:
Leading an overall healthy lifestyle can help to positively impact all men’s prostate health.
Ultimately, experiencing an enlargement of the prostate is not at all unusual for men of a certain age, but it can be a cause of pain and discomfort. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of BPH, prostatitis, and even prostate cancer is important to your overall health. Consulting with your doctor is always the best first line of defense.
Now that you’re equipped with the answers to the main questions of “what does the prostate do”, “what causes prostate problems”, and “what’s good for prostate health”, you can have a better focus on prostate health as it relates to your total wellness.
The statements contained herein have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They are not intended to treat, diagnose, prevent or cure any disease.