Health: A pain for men only

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The Independent Online
"I EXPERIENCED two weeks of fever, terrible pain and passed blood in my urine. I was hospitalised but then sent home because I was told the problem was 'difficult to treat'.

"I had five months off work, took a variety of drugs - many of which made things far worse - and, without medication, I still feel really ill, tingly all over, sick, numb and in a lot of pain.

"Although I have good and bad days, it's still tough going for me".

Jon Bernardes, 46, has been affected by a little-known but surprisingly common condition called prostatitis, one of several diseases targeting that small but troublesome male organ at the base of the bladder, the prostate gland. The symptoms vary from a short-lived flu-like infection with some passing of blood to a chronic condition that often causes severe pain around the pelvis and beyond.

While prostate cancer has recently received belated media and medical attention, non-life-threatening prostate conditions like prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) - a swelling of the prostate often leading to severe urinary problems - have remained what Bernardes calls "Cinderfella" diseases: little-understood, under-researched, poorly publicised and inadequately treated.

Today, however, these conditions will receive some much-needed attention. The Men's Prostate Health Project, based at the University of Wolverhampton and co-ordinated by Bernardes, is publishing the first-ever survey of men affected by non-cancerous prostate problems and holding a conference in London to discuss the results.

The survey, which looked at the experiences of 565 men, dispels the common belief that those with prostate problems are a collection of Private Godfreys, geriatric gents forever rushing off to the toilet.

In fact, prostatitis is thought to affect up to one-third of men aged 20-50 while a similar proportion of men aged over 50 suffer from benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH.

The findings reflect the dramatic effects on men's lives. And although two-thirds of men felt their doctors were generally sympathetic, many said GPs and urologists were unwilling to respond to early symptoms, did not always carry out sufficient tests, gave conflicting advice or made unnecessary or ineffective interventions.

For details of the Prostate Help Association, send two first class stamps to PHA, Langworth, Lincoln LN3 5DF.