Managing your incontinence
Changes to your prostate - everything you need to know
Men don’t like talking about their health, but it’s important they discuss and are aware of their own well-being including issues related to their prostate. Prostate problems are more common than you may think and being mindful about your prostate’s health can help you identify and seek treatment for problems before they become more serious.
What is a prostate, and where is it located?
The prostate is a small gland that sits below the bladder and surrounds the urethra and plays a very important role in the male reproductive system.
The prostate, or prostate gland, is approximately the size of a walnut. It can be found in front of the rectum, between the bladder and the penis1. This gland is only present in men, and the urethra (the tube that urine flows through) goes through the centre of the prostate.
What does the prostate do?
The prostate has two main functions. The main function being the production of seminal fluid which mixes with the sperm. The seminal fluid helps the sperm to travel and survive. The semen contains an enzyme known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). PSA is controlled by the male hormone testosterone which is produced by the testis. The second function of the prostate is to control the flow of urine. The muscle fibres of the prostate surround the urethra and are controlled by the involuntary nervous system. These fibres therefore slow or stop the flow of urine.
Signs that something isn't right
Prostate problems are common and are likely to develop more as a man gets older particularly over the age of 50. Some of the problems may be related to an enlarged prostate, prostatitis (inflamed prostate) or prostate cancer.
Given how vital the health of the prostate gland is, men should take time to familiarise yourself with the warning signs that something may be wrong2. Some of the signs may include:
Waking up during the night to pass urine more frequently. To pass urine once or twice during the night is quite normal but any more than this can be annoying and tiring. If this happens you should see your GP:
- Dribbling after you have finished peeing
- Needing to pass urine more frequently or with urgency
- Weak flow of urine or straining when your passing urine
- Feeling like you’re not able to empty your bladder
- Blood present in your urine or semen.
- It is painful when you urinate, or you feel a burning sensation.
- If you have pain when ejaculating or pain in the pelvis, genitals, lower back or buttocks
You should contact your GP if you have any symptoms or concerns.
Issues with your prostate are common, particularly in older men. About half of all men will have a prostate condition by the age of 703. As with most health issues, they can be treated more easily if caught at an early stage.
Enlarged prostate, also known as Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), is very common and associated with aging. The enlarged prostate may present some of the below symptoms:
- Straining when passing urine
- A weak flow of urine
- Feeling like your bladder is never fully empty
- Dribbling after you have finished peeing
- Urge to pass urine more frequently or suddenly
- Struggling to start or stop urinating
- Waking more frequently to pass urine in the night
The cause of an enlarged prostate as a man ages is unknown, but it is assumed to be linked to hormone changes that naturally occur as part of the ageing process. However, it is not caused by cancer and having an enlarged prostate does not increase the man’s risk of developing prostate cancer.
Why an enlarged prostate can lead to urge incontinence, is shown in this short "Easily explained" video.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms. However, some minor lifestyle changes may help to improve your symptoms.
Changes to your lifestyle. This is always the first port of call for treating or lessening the symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
Reduce intake of caffeine, fizzy drinks, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners as they can irritate the bladder and make symptoms much worse
Limit the amount you drink in the evening before going to bed and avoid drinking anything 2 hours before going to bed. However, make sure you drink enough fluids in the daytime
Bladder retraining where you train the bladder to hold urine for longer. This is usually a personalised training exercise that would be provided by your GP or specialist nurse
Maintain a healthy weight according to your BMI
Medicines. If lifestyle changes don’t help alleviate symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication. This could include muscle relaxants, diuretics to speed up urine production during the day, desmopressin to slow it down at night, and inhibitors to shrink the prostate gland4.
Incontinence supplies. If your prostate enlargement has triggered urinary incontinence and you have found yourself leaking urine involuntarily, you should speak to your GP or local bladder and bowel service. Male incontinence products such as absorbent pads and pouches may help to manage your symptoms and offer security and protection to help you go about your day.
Surgery. This option will be explored if none of the above treatments have helped to improve symptoms. There are several types of surgery, and specialists will consult which is best for which indication.
Prostatitis is where the prostate gland becomes inflamed and is usually very painful and worrying but treatable. Symptoms of prostatitis can affect any age, but the most common age is between 30 and 50 years old.
There are two forms of prostatitis:
Chronic symptoms are on and off for several months.
Pain whilst passing urine or needing to pass urine more frequently, especially at night time, and the inability to maintain a constant ‘flow’ of urine
Pain in/around the testicles, anus, penis, lower back and abdomen
Erectile dysfunction, pelvic pain after sex
A swollen, tender prostate on rectal examination
Acute symptoms are sudden and severe but will improve with the right treatment:
- Pain whilst passing urine or needing to pass urine more frequently, especially at night time, and the inability to maintain a constant ‘flow’ of urine
- Blood in your urine
- Pain which may be severe in/around the testicles, anus, penis, lower back and lower abdomen. It may also be painful when opening bowels
- Inability to pass urine (retention of urine)
- Feeling generally unwell which may include a high temperature and aches and pains
- Pain when ejaculating and lower back pain
Similarly to prostate enlargement, the exact cause of prostatitis is unknown. However, certain factors can increase your risk of developing chronic or acute prostatitis such as5:
- Nerve damage in the pelvic area
- Recent UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)
- Urinary catheter
- Sexually transmitted infection
- HIV & AIDS
Acute prostatitis can usually be treated with a 2-4 week course of antibiotics and painkillers, but if the pain is more severe and you are unable to pass urine, hospital treatment might be required.
Chronic prostatitis can last for months, so treatment is focused on controlling symptoms. Treatment involves painkillers, antibiotics, alpha-blockers if the person affected has trouble passing urine, or laxatives for painful bowel openings..
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer amongst men in Australia, with approximately 18,000 new prostate cancer diagnoses each year.6
The tricky part about identifying prostate cancer in its early stages is that symptoms generally don’t present until the prostate is enlarged enough to affect the urethra’s functionality. At this stage, affected men may notice:
- Straining whilst passing urine
- Feeling that the bladder is never fully emptied
- The need to pass urine more frequently
- Blood in urine or semen
- Sudden erectile dysfunction
These symptoms of prostate cancer can be difficult to distinguish to those symptoms similar to prostatitis and prostate enlargement so it is always important to see your GP if you develop any symptoms.
Who is at risk?
Every man is at risk of prostate cancer, but some groups are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
There is an increased risk of developing prostate cancer if there is a family history of prostate cancer. Having a close relative such as a father or brother who developed prostate cancer under the age of 60 increases the risk significantly. There is also an associated risk if a close female relative has a history of breast cancer.
Men of African-Caribbean and African ethnicity are at high risk of prostate cancer. Reasons for this are unknown.
The risk of developing prostate cancer increases with age, especially men over the age of 50 although the most common age for diagnosis is between the ages of 65 – 69 years.
How do they test for prostate cancer?
The method of testing for prostate cancer is called ‘screening’. During a screening, a GP or other health professional will complete a series of necessary tests and checks, including taking a urine sample, a blood sample to check levels of prostate-specific antigens (PSA test), and a digital rectal examination to examine your prostate. 7
Cancer treatment options vary depending on the stage of the cancer, the size of the cancer, any other underlying health problems you may have and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. The aim is to cure or control the disease.
Some of the options are listed below but if you would like more information on treatments available for prostate cancer, click here. 8
- Watchful waiting and active surveillance
- Surgical removal (radical prostatectomy)
- Hormone therapy
- Clinical trials and new therapies
How to look after your prostate
Although there are no real preventative measures for issues and changes to your prostate, there are lifestyle changes you can make to help keep your body as healthy as possible.
Your diet has a huge impact on how your body functions. To keep your body and prostate in good health, you should:
Eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day
Limit your intake of red meat and dairy
Cut down your sodium intake.
Eat foods with healthy oils and fats like nuts, avocados and fatty fish
Have a good fluid intake
Avoid fluids that irritate the bladder
Drink green tea
Exercising and staying active reduces your risk of developing health problems. Taking at least half an hour of exercise each day will get your blood pumping and help to try and maintain a healthy weight.
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