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Many men have no idea what their prostate is, what it does or when to seek medical attention if they think they have a problem.
And while prostate cancer is one of the main issues that affects the gland, there are other conditions the prostate is prone to that can impact someone's quality of life.
In an interview with Yahoo Canada, Dr. Danny Vesprini, a radiation oncologist at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, says that while the prostate isn't large (about the size of a walnut), its nature and location "certainly causes lots of problems."
Read on to learn more about the prostate, it's common issues and how you might be able to prevent discomfort.
What is the prostate?
The prostate is a gland that produces enzymes and proteins in the body. It's part of the reproductive system and rests below a man's bladder.
"The main goal of the prostate is that it produces between 60 to 80 per cent of a man's ejaculate and, in particular, creates an enzyme called prostate specific antigen, or PSA," says Vesprini. "What that enzyme does is liquify the coagulum in the vagina to help with reproduction. So it allows sperm to swim more freely in the vagina."
The oncologist added that it's an important gland for us to have babies, but doesn't have many other functions.
Common prostate problems
According to Vesprini, the most common problem most men experience is that the prostate continues to grow, which leads to problems with urination and incontinence.
"It's one of the few parts of the body that still grows as we get old. And as men get older, they start to have more difficulties with urinating," he adds. "That's why older men get up to pee at night because they aren't emptying their bladder sufficiently during the day."
As such, men can experience a slower flow of their urine and "they start to spray a bit, which can be a bit of a nuisance."
Although these symptoms aren't serious medical issues, Vespirini believes they can impact a man's confidence and quality of life.
"As we get older and the prostate gets bigger, the bladder may not empty fully and the flow starts to slow down, which is annoying but it's common and there’s lots of remedies," Vesprini adds.
Warning signs of prostatitis or BPH
In addition to common urinary problems, prostatitis or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) are more serious conditions that can affect the prostate.
Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland that can cause symptoms such as painful urination and general discomfort in the groin, pelvis or genitals.
"It can be very uncomfortable and disruptive by causing pain or sexual dysfunction," Vesprini says.
On the other hand, BPH, or an overly enlarged prostate, usually affects men over the age of 40. As it grows, the prostate can block the flow of urine and cause bladder, urinary tract or kidney problems.
"Signs of BPH are difficulty urinating, a weak stream, or having a frequent need to urinate," explains Vesprini.
Remedies for prostate issues
When it comes to home remedies for prostate issues like BPH, the most common thing to do is to change your habits.
"Stop drinking in the evening or don't drink lots of fluid before bed, which lessens the amount of times you're urinating at night," Vesprini suggests.
If that doesn't provide relief, there are medications that help the bladder empty more sufficiently, or medications that shrink the prostate over time.
"For more serious cases, there are surgical procedures that can be done, but it has risks," Vesprini adds.
For prostatitis, the oncologist says that anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or Advil sometimes help, or the use of antibiotics can settle things down.
"Some men find that different foods or certain activities also trigger symptoms and thus they avoid those, but that's unique to each person and you'll have to go through a trial and error process to figure it out," he explains.
Can I prevent prostate issues?
"You can't really prevent prostate problems, and something like BPH is just a natural evolution. The only way to prevent it from happening is to have no testosterone, which is what triggers the prostate to grow over time," Vesprini says.
Moreover, Vesprini adds that as urinary problems and BPH is a normal part of aging, it's abnormal for a man in his 70s or 80s to not have experienced any of these problems.
In general, the doctor believes that in order to be your best self, work towards having a healthy heart, having a good diet and exercising frequently.
"It's very important to keep on top of your overall health, and don't turn to quick fixes," Vesprini concludes. "Be aware of any changes in your body, and get screened if you suspect any issues."