The prostate is a small gland located between the bladder and the rectum. It plays a vital role in reproduction, but prostate problems can also cause difficulty with urination due to its location. Prostate health is a key part of overall health. Here is what you need to know.

According to Harvard Medical School, most men who live long lives will eventually develop prostate problems. There are three basic categories of prostate issues.

Common Problems of Prostate Health: Prostatitis

Prostatitis, or an inflamed prostate gland, may be acute or chronic. A bacterial infection typically causes the acute form. You’ll likely experience sudden painful urination, a weak urine stream, and other signs of infection such as chills or a fever. It’s unclear exactly what causes chronic prostatitis, but it is usually accompanied by such symptoms as ongoing or recurring painful urination, pelvic discomfort, trouble urinating, and a more frequent urge to go.

Prostatitis is equally common in both younger and older men, leading to about 2 million doctor visits each year in the United States alone. As many as 16 percent of men may experience this condition at some point.

Common Problems of Prostate Health: Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)

BPH, or an enlarged prostate, is much more common in older men. It typically causes a cluster of symptoms in the lower urinary tract, which may include some or all of the following:

  • Bladder leakage
  • Weak urine stream
  • Frequent urination, especially during the night
  • Feeling like the bladder is never quite empty

Eventually, BPH could lead to the complete inability to urinate. This is a medical emergency that must be treated right away. However, it’s best to treat BPH early, so see your doctor if you experience any urinary symptoms.

Common Problems of Prostate Health: Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among men in the United States. However, many forms of prostate cancer are localized and low grade. The goal is to quickly identify those that are more aggressive so they can be treated before they spread.

In many cases, prostate cancer has no symptoms at all. If you do experience symptoms, they are typically related to urinary troubles along with back pain. The trouble is that other prostate problems, especially BPH, can also cause elevated PSA levels. Screening via a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test is the best way to find this type of cancer.

The American Cancer Society suggests that men talk to their doctor about PSA screening at age 50 if they are at average risk. African Americans and those with a father or brother diagnosed before age 65 are at higher risk, so they should have the discussion at age 45. The highest risk is for those with multiple first-degree relatives with early-onset prostate cancer. They should start the conversation at age 40.

If you decide to get screened, how often to screen depends on your PSA level at your last test. Low PSA levels typically indicate screening every other year, while higher levels indicate an annual screening. Your doctor will help you decide what screening schedule is right for you to keep prostate health on track.