Inflammation of the prostate gland, sometimes due to infection

  • Most common between the ages of 30 and 50
  • Unprotected sex with multiple partners is a risk factor
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Inflammation of the prostate gland, known as prostatitis, may be acute or chronic. Acute prostatitis is uncommon and tends to produce sudden, severe symptoms that clear up rapidly with treatment. By contrast, chronic prostatitis usually causes mild but persistent symptoms and can be difficult to treat. Both types are most common in sexually active men aged between 30 and 50.

What are the causes?

In many cases of acute or chronic prostatitis, an exact cause of the disorder cannot be determined. However, acute prostatitis tends to be the result of bacterial infection and chronic prostatitis is generally nonbacterial. Inflammation of the prostate gland may also develop in association with sexually transmitted infections.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of acute prostatitis develop suddenly and are usually severe. They may include the following:

  • Fever and chills.

  • Pain around the base of the penis.

  • Lower back pain.

  • Pain during bowel movements.

  • Frequent, urgent, and painful passing of urine.

Acute prostatitis sometimes causes urinary retention, painful swelling behind the testes, or the formation of an abscess in the prostate gland.

Chronic prostatitis may not produce symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they develop gradually and may include:

  • Pain and tenderness at the base of the penis and in the testes, groin, pelvis, or back.

  • Pain on ejaculation.

  • Blood in the semen.

  • Frequent, painful passing of urine.

If you suspect that you have either acute or chronic prostatitis, you should consult your doctor immediately.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will perform a digital rectal examination, in which a finger is inserted into the rectum to feel the prostate. The doctor may also ask you to provide a urine sample and may obtain a sample of prostate gland secretions by massaging the prostate through the rectum and collecting secretions from the urethra. Both the urine sample and the prostate gland secretions will then be tested for the presence of infectious organisms. Ultrasound scanning may also be carried out to check for an abscess in the prostate gland.

What is the treatment?

If a bacterial infection is found, antibiotics will be prescribed. It may take several months for the infection to clear up completely. In the meantime, your doctor may recommend painkillers and may also give you drugs that soften the stools (see Laxatives) to make bowel movements more comfortable. If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may advise bed rest. Prostatitis that is not caused by a bacterial infection may be treated with painkillers to relieve the symptoms and with drugs that act to relax the muscle at the exit of the bladder (see Drugs for prostate disorders).

Although most affected men recover fully, both types of prostatitis can recur.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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