Prostate problems: how can employers help?

prostate problems
Male workers over 50 may have prostate problems - occupational health and HR have a role in supporting them

One in five men would turn a blind eye to prostate issues, according to research published in November 2014 by herbal remedies manufacturer A.Vogel, but occupational health and HR professionals could help employees manage the condition. Dr Roger Henderson explains.

Prostate health is important, but it is often overlooked or avoided. Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK, but getting an early diagnosis can help detect it at a more treatable stage. For the vast majority, however, getting their prostate symptoms checked out will result in a sense of relief when they realise they have a non-cancerous and treatable condition.

Research shows that prescription medicines, lifestyle changes and natural remedies, such as saw palmetto, can all make a difference for men with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), an enlarged prostate.

There are also a number of  other things men can do to help treat and manage BPH, depending on the severity, including:

  • Mild BPH: Men with mild BPH may opt for a period of “watchful waiting” to see if their symptoms worsen. During this period, lifestyle adjustments may help relieve symptoms. Examples include cutting down on caffeine and alcohol, especially late at night, as these can make you need the toilet more frequently, and stopping smoking, as nicotine can irritate the bladder. Additionally, they can try to retrain the bladder by holding on as long as possible before going to the bathroom.
  • Moderate BPH: This is the point at which most men opt for some form of treatment, often prescription medication, although some may prefer to use a natural remedy. They can discuss their options with their GP. It is worth remembering that treatment can take a long time to have an effect.
  • Severe BPH: For severe cases of BPH, surgery may be the most suitable option. This will only be considered after all other treatments have been tried, and a healthcare professional will talk the patient through the process in detail before going ahead.

There are certain myths about BPH that should also be addressed:

Myth: An enlarged prostate is a natural part of ageing and you cannot do anything about it.

The truth: While BPH is linked to increased age, this does not mean men should just put up with it. Small adjustments to lifestyle, prescription medicines and licensed natural remedies have all been shown to reduce symptoms and restore quality of life.

Myth: An enlarged prostate is likely to be a sign of cancer.

The truth: Enlarged prostate can be a sign of cancer and a man should always visit a medical professional if he has any concerns. However, prostate cancer is rare and the cause is far more likely to be benign (non-cancerous) and treatable. My golden rule is: if in doubt, get it checked out.

What is an enlarged prostate and who does it affect?

BPH, or enlarged prostate, is a very common condition It is linked with an increase in the size of the prostate gland (located at the base of the bladder), due to an increase in cells, without any of them necessarily being cancerous. It is associated with a number of common symptoms, including:

  • a need to pass water more frequently or urgently (often at night), with occasional leaking or dribbling;
  • hesitancy in passing water even when needed, weak stream or straining to go; or
  • a feeling that the bladder is never fully empty, even after water has been passed

Why is this a workplace issue?

Any man over the age of  50 could be experiencing symptoms of BPH and statistics show that around 50% of men in this age group are affected. The over-50s form a vital part of the workforce so employers should be vigilent.

How might BPH affect employees?

BPH has a big impact on sleep, which can have a knock-on effect on productivity and overall wellbeing. If a person is sleep-deprived, it is likely to affect their mood, judgment and health. In addition, BPH could have an impact on an employee’s confidence and could certainly prove to be a distraction during the working day.

Employees travelling long distances for work, particularly those spending a great deal of time in cars or lorries, may also find the symptoms particularly disruptive. However, the condition is easy to treat once identified and can be managed with the appropriate support.

What should companies be doing to help people with this problem?

As a general rule, making sure there are adequate toilet facilities in any workplace is a key step. Allowing regular toilet breaks in meetings may also be of benefit. It is also wise to ensure that HR managers and directors are aware of the condition and they have access to the right information, should it be required. NHS Choices and A.Vogel’s Enlarged Prostate Health Hub are both good online resources.


About Dr Roger Henderson

Dr Roger Henderson is an independent GP.

One Response to Prostate problems: how can employers help?

  1. Avatar
    Lucian Furnival 19 Mar 2015 at 9:40 am #

    There’s great support from the leading prostate cancer charity Prostate Cancer UK – they have a free-to-landline specialist nurse hotline 0800 074 8383 and there’s a good free booklet ‘Know Your prostate: a guide to common prostate problems’, plus loads of other booklets about every aspect of prostate disease. People can email the nurses with questions from the Prostate Canceer UK website