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Can prostate problems cause incontinence?

Man and woman hiking

Prostate problems include prostate enlargement (an extremely common condition that affects more than ), prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) and prostate cancer. These issues involve the prostate being enlarged or inflamed which can sometimes cause incontinence. If you require surgery or radiation therapy on your prostate, this can also result in issues with incontinence, although these may be temporary.


Why do prostate problems affect your bladder?

To understand why problems with your prostate can cause incontinence, it’s important to first explain how the bladder works. Urine is made in the kidneys, and then gets stored in the bladder until it is full and you have the urge to go to the toilet. The muscles around your urethra relax, which allows urine to flow away from the bladder and out of the body.

In men, the prostate gland surrounds the urethra. It’s about the same size and shape as a walnut - although it tends to get bigger as you get older - and its main job is producing the thick, white fluid that combines with sperm to make semen. Due to its position, an enlarged or inflamed prostate can obstruct the urethra and cause difficulty with urine retention or other issues. 

Other ways that incontinence can occur as a result of prostate problems is when the prostate is removed through surgery or is destroyed through radiation therapy. Radiation in particular disrupts the way the bladder holds urine, which can result in leakage. Radiation can also decrease the capacity of the bladder, or can cause spasms that force urine out. Surgery can also unfortunately damage nerves that help control bladder function, resulting in issues with incontinence.


Incontinence after prostate surgery

Incontinence is common in men who have had surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Thankfully, doctors and surgeons try to save the bladder muscles as much as possible. This is improving, as newer techniques tend to only cause temporary problems.

The most common type of leakage after surgery is stress incontinence which is usually experienced by men after prostate gland has been removed, whereas urge incontinence can occur after radiation treatment. Leaking urine tends to improve over time, with most men seeing an improvement one to six months after surgery.


What can you do to tackle incontinence caused by prostate problems?

If you’re about to undergo prostate surgery, talk to your doctor or surgeon about the possible side effects so you can weigh up your options and be prepared.

If you’re currently experiencing incontinence issues because of your prostate problems, it may be useful to modify your behaviour (for example by not drinking as much fluid especially before bedtime or avoiding caffeine and alcohol), or look into how kegel exercises can help, alongside talking to your doctor.  

Men who have had prostate surgery may benefit from attending a prostate cancer support group where you can get support and talk to people suffering from the same issues.

If you want to continue learning, read our interview all about the prostate and male urine leakage with Professor Ralph Peeker.

Did you know

One in four men between 40 years and over experience lower urinary tract symptoms.

Illustration of four men with one shaded a lighter blue one in four

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