Dear Dr. Roach: My 46-year-old son has suffered for nearly five years with what seems to be CPPS (chronic pelvic pain syndrome). Being the mother, I am involved only to a limited extent, as my son, of course, is embarrassed to go into details with me. Although after he read an article delineating the symptoms of CPPS, he said, "Yes, that's exactly it!"

He has sought medical help, but after two colonoscopies and several prostate exams, he has been told only variations of "We can't find anything" and "There's nothing we can do for you."

Articles I've read state that millions of men suffer from this worldwide, and it is the third most common reason men visit a urologist. Can you shed any light on this painful, mysterious condition and outline what steps he might take next?

-- V.P.

A: I've written several times about chronic pelvic pain in women, but this is the first question I've received on chronic pelvic pain in men. It is indeed far more common than many, including me, may have thought: 10 percent overall, and about 1 man in 8 (13 percent) in your son's age group -- the most common group to have this symptom. As men get older, the condition decreases in frequency.

The definition of CPPS is "chronic pelvic pain in at least three of the six preceding months, in absence of other identifying causes." As such, it's really unclear what is causing this condition or even if the prostate is the source of the problem. There is some evidence to suggest that it is: Prostate inflammation often is found, but men can have symptoms with or without inflammation, and with or without evidence of bacterial infection. Most men have urinary symptoms as well, including increased urinary frequency and discomfort when voiding. Some men also have pain or discomfort during sexual activity. Symptoms often are ascribed to chronic prostate infection, but antibiotics may not be helpful in treatment, and unlike most cases of chronic bacterial prostatitis, there is no tenderness of the prostate.

The severity of CPPS can be measured by a tool that is available online www.upointmd.com/NIHCPSIEnglish.pdf. The scores range from 0-43: The mean score for someone with CPPS is about 20. He can fill out this form and take it to his urologist.

No treatment has been shown to alleviate symptoms in all men; however, there are several treatments that are effective in some, and combinations of treatments may be effective in the majority of men. Most experts will try a course of antibiotics; however, if it isn't effective, it should not be repeated. Medications like tamsulosin (Flomax) are helpful in some, as is the prostate medicine dutasteride (Avodart). Cognitive-behavioral therapy is very helpful for some men. Other medications that sometimes are tried include steroids, anti-inflammatories and medications for chronic pain, such as gabapentin (Neurontin). One study suggested that there is some benefit from acupuncture and myofascial trigger point release by a pelvic floor physical therapist.

Less-common therapies with some evidence for benefit include botulinum toxin (Botox) injection, heat therapy and shock waves to the bladder. Finding a specialist in chronic pelvic pain for men would be ideal.

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Readers: The booklet on diverticulitis explains this common disorder and its treatments. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Roach, Book No. 502, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 with the recipient's printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

Dr. Keith Roach writes for North America Syndicate. Send letters to 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803 or email ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.

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