It’s something you know is important, something you know shouldn’t be ignored, but you continue to turn a blind eye to it anyway.
Maybe you’ve been making one too many nighttime bathroom trips, or perhaps you’ve noticed leaking that you’d rather not acknowledge. You’re not the only man suffering in silence.
Urological problems are inevitable as you age, but those issues don’t have to define your quality of life.
When it comes to navigating your greatest asset, your health, you need a well-informed voice to help you better understand the symptoms, treatments, and implications of the most common urological ailments.
Dr. Benjamin L. Dehner, the Chief of Urology at St. Thomas West in Nashville, Tennessee, is a urologist that I know you can trust. If you’re not ready to walk into a urologist’s office yet or request the urology tests you may need, Dr. Dehner can get you started here.
Why Should Your Urological Health Be a Top Priority?
When you think of your health and wellness, what comes to mind first? Most men think immediately of their heart health or weight, but few jump to prostate health. In fact, most busy, high-powered men completely ignore urological health until symptoms become too painful to ignore.
Unfortunately, this only undermines your health and vitality instead of protecting it. Urological disease can affect the kidneys, bladder, urethra, prostate, penis, and testicles. That’s nothing to shrug away!
A urologist understands the complex interconnection between the different components of the urinary and reproductive systems. Even if you don’t recognize symptoms or realize their significance, a urologist will. In particular, there are three specific conditions that pose a threat to men as they age: benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), erectile dysfunction (ED), and prostate cancer.
Learning to recognize these conditions and understand treatment options is the first step to preserving your comfort, vitality, and independence as you get older.
What Is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia?
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) develops with age, plain and simple. It’s the result of an enlarged prostate gland. Since the prostate gland sits beneath your bladder, it blocks the flow of urine as it grows.
As a man, you know that urinary issues don’t make comfortable dinner table conversations. Your kids might crack jokes about your frequent bathroom stops on road trips, but you tell yourself it’s a normal consequence of aging.
But what happens when BPH interferes with your personal life and success at work? As Dr. Dehner explains, if you’re the guy that’s pacing at the clock waiting to get out of meetings so that you can run to the bathroom, BPH is disrupting your life. Other tell-tale signs of BPH include the following symptoms:
- Frequent urination at night
- Difficulty beginning urination
- Urgent need to urinate
- Weak or inconsistent stream of urine
- Dribbling after urination
- Difficulty emptying the bladder
A BPH symptoms survey can measure the true severity of your BPH symptoms. Though your survey score can’t replace the medical advice of a urologist, it offers an important first step to assessing your condition and seeking a real diagnosis.
How to Treat BPH
There’s one myth that pervades conversations about BPH. You’ve probably heard it yourself: You’re stuck with BPH forever! It’s all part of getting older… just deal with it.
Toss that myth out of your mind now. Our grandparents and great-grandparents might have been “stuck with” BPH, but medical advances over the last ten years have made it easy to treat or even reverse.
The first step is to identify any lifestyle habits that may be contributing to your BPH symptoms. Dr. Dehner sees this all the time: “Say you came to me at 40 and said, ‘Hey, I’m getting up at night once or twice, or I get up in the morning and I go six times before noon.’ Well then, the first thing is, what are you drinking?”
If you’re drinking a pot of coffee before lunch, your BPH symptoms may be resolved by simply reducing your intake. If dietary changes alone don’t do the trick, medication with alpha blockers is the next step. Flomax, Uroxatral, and Rapflo are all popular alpha blockers that relax the bladder and prostate to make urination easier.
Many men crave the relief that medication provides, but they won’t want to rely on pharmaceuticals for the rest of their lives. New minimally invasive procedures are now available to reduce or eliminate reliance on medication. UroLift®, for example, is a one-time, in-office solution that lifts and holds the enlarged prostate tissue. This keeps the prostate from blocking the urethra and allows urine to flow freely again, all without invasive surgery or removal of prostate tissue.
Dangers of Untreated BPH
Sure, you could ignore your BPH symptoms and accept your fate of waking up to pee six times each night. But don’t!
When you allow BPH to run rampant and ignore urology tests, it can affect your long-term health and your quality of life. As your prostate grows, your retain more urine in your bladder. Your bladder muscles become thicker and stronger as it fights to get that urine out. This reduces your bladder’s elasticity and causes it to degrade.
The bottom line? Ignoring your BPH may leave you with no choice but to use a catheter later in life. That’s definitely not what you want, so address your urological health while time is still on your side.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction is even less enjoyable to discuss than BPH! It’s only thanks to Viagra’s marketing campaigns that ED has become a public topic. Before the age of Viagra, men suffered from erectile dysfunction in silence and humiliation. Now we understand that ED has specific root causes that can be identified with urology tests and treated.
Reduced Blood Flow to the Penis
The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is reduced blood flow to the penis. There are many chronic conditions that potentially limit blood flow to the penis:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Hardening of the arteries
- Heart disease
Since the diameter of the artery to the penis only measures one millimeter, it’s vulnerable to blockages. This makes ED an early marker of more dangerous problems, including heart attack and stroke. Identifying the core cause of your erectile dysfunction can save your life, not just your sex life.
The Diabetes and ED Connection
Diabetes and ED don’t seem connected on the surface, but they’re actually closely intertwined. Research shows that men with diabetes are three times more likely to experience ED than men without diabetes. They may also begin showing symptoms of ED up to 15 years earlier than their peers without diabetes.
Diabetes and ED are linked because of the damage that uncontrolled blood sugar levels can cause to the nerves and blood vessels:
- Diabetes leads to damage of the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response
- Diabetes harms the small blood vessels needed to sustain blood flow to the penis
This is frustrating and dangerous! But the good news is that diabetes can be effectively controlled through healthier lifestyle habits like proper diet and exercise.
Erectile Dysfunction Treatment Options
You don’t want to live with ED, and the good news is that you don’t have to. Lifestyle changes, medications, and other products are proven to reduce symptoms of ED.
Viagra and Cialis are the best known medications for ED. Viagra acts quickly and is best for predictable, in-the-moment needs. Keep in mind that Viagra can’t be absorbed as well on a full stomach, so it’s not the best choice for a romantic moment after a heavy steak dinner.
Cialis works for up to 36 hours, so it’s a better option for men with less predictable or more frequent needs. Some men have success taking a low dose of Cialis on a regular basis to maintain a strong baseline.
Thanks to generic versions of these medications, it’s more affordable to address ED than it was in the past. Symptoms to consider: Viagra is known for headaches, congestion, and temporary visual changes, while Cialis is known to cause back pain.
If medications don’t help as much as you’d like, consider products like rings or pumps to maintain a stronger erection in the moment. They’re inexpensive, safe, and easy to use.
Trimix, an injectable three-drug prescription, is also an option for men who want to deliver ED medication straight to the source, rather than relying on the absorption of a pill to produce results.
Living with ED isn’t something that you have to face alone, and with the help of your urologist, you can find the best treatment for you and your lifestyle.
What Is Prostate Cancer?
We’re told to worry about heart attacks, stroke, and dementia, but prostate cancer is a major threat to men as well. Like BPH, prostate cancer is a nearly unavoidable disease of age. Genetics, hormones, and lifestyle all influence your vulnerability to prostate cancer, and you’re almost guaranteed to experience some level of prostate cancer if you live long enough.
But that doesn’t mean you need to sound the alarm bells right away. It’s generally recommended that men begin prostate testing at age 50. The only exception is for men with a clear and direct family history of prostate cancer, in which case testing by age 40 is best.
At the moment, PSA testing is the best indicator of prostate cancer. A urologist uses PSA results to identify your risk and recommend treatment protocols. Prostate cancer is a slow growing disease, so it can be identified early and treated before it becomes too aggressive.
We’re fortunate that science and medicine have developed numerous treatment methods for prostate cancer. You don’t need to become a victim of this disease!
The first option is called watchful waiting. This means you understand that hints of prostate cancer are developing and may grow, so you work with your urologist to track the cancer’s progress. It’s actually possible for prostate cancer to grow so slowly that it never threatens your health or quality of life.
If watchful waiting isn’t a feasible option, work with your urologist to determine the best course of action. There’s no one “best” prostate cancer treatment; it’s very patient specific based upon personal preference, disease characteristics, age, and more. A few of the most common prostate cancer treatment options include:
- Removal of the prostate
- Targeted radiation
- Cryotherapy (freezing of the prostate)
- Ultrasound energy treatment
In the face of prostate cancer, you have to ask yourself one main question: How do I navigate my ambitions with the need to treat this disease given the available treatments? This means considering the potential side effects and expected benefits.
Many men have a strong initial reaction that screams, “Get my prostate out! I’m done with this!” But prostate removal is no longer the best or only option. Allow yourself the opportunity to adjust your treatment plan if the trajectory of your disease changes and an alternate choice makes more sense.
Stay Proactive With Your Prostate Health
Any man who values his goals, ambitions, and independence must also value his prostate health. As you know from your past successes and challenges, staying proactive is the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal. If you can approach your prostate health with that same level of focus, you can stop serious problems before they ever start.
As a urologist, Dr. Dehner has committed his career to helping patients across the country as they navigate their urological health. Though based in Nashville, Tennessee, Dr. Dehner is passionate about consulting and advising patients, regardless of their location.
Conversations about urology and male health are dynamic and often emotional. This is why creating a relationship with a urologist you can trust is immeasurably valuable. An optimal life is what you deserve, so what are you waiting for?
Dr. Aaron Wenzel is a concierge physician specializing in the care of fast-moving entrepreneurs, executives, and public figures in the Nashville, TN area. Dr. Wenzel’s diverse life experience and extensive training in family medicine, emergency care, nutrition, and hormone replacement therapies give him the unique platform to provide unmatched care for his patients.