The prostate gland is a small gland that lies beneath the urinary bladder in males. The gland surrounds the top of the urethra which carries urine and sperm out of the body via the penis. Prostatitis refers to inflammation or swelling of the prostate gland. In most cases, the cause of prostatitis is unclear but sometimes infection is responsible.
Symptoms of prostatitis
Unlike the prostate disorders which usually affect older men such as prostate enlargement (benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH) or prostate cancer, prostatitis may occur in men of any age.
Prostatitis may be either a chronic illness or an acute one. In most cases, prostatitis is a chronic condition, with the sufferer experiencing persistent pain in the pelvis, genital area and lower back. Men with chronic prostatitis may feel the need to frequently urinate, which may be difficult or painful to do.
Ejaculation may also be painful and there may be discomfort in the area between the scrotum and the anus (the perineal area). The severity of these symptoms varies and symptoms may be troublesome on some days but almost absent on others.
Prostatitis symptoms that develop rapidly and are severe indicate a condition called acute prostatitis and this requires immediate medical attention. Acute prostatitis is far less common than the chronic form and is caused by bacterial infection. This infection can cause irreversible damage to the prostate and surrounding areas if it is not corrected promptly with the use of antibiotics.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis and prompt treatment of chronic prostatitis can be a challenge, as in most cases the cause is not infection and remains unclear. Suggested causes for this type of prostatitis include infection with a germ not yet identified, nerve malfunction affecting the prostate, autoimmune disorder of the prostate, and backflow of urine causing inflammation.
Prostatitis that is caused by a bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics and a full recovery can usually be achieved within two weeks. Sometimes symptoms return at a later date and require further treatment.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc