Background: Prostatitis describes a combination of infectious diseases (acute and chronic bacterial prostatitis), chronic pelvic pain syndrome, and asymptomatic inflammation. Materials and methods: We employed evidence-based methods to review the epidemiology of prostatitis syndromes. Results: The prevalence of prostatitis symptoms could be compared in five studies surveying 10 617 men. Overall, 873 participants met various criteria for prostatitis, representing an overall rate of 8.2%, with prevalence ranging from 2.2 to 9.7%. A history of sexually transmitted diseases was associated with an increased risk for prostatitis symptoms. Men reporting a history of prostatitis symptoms had a substantially increased rate of benign prostatic hyperplasia, lower urinary tract symptoms and prostate cancer. In one study, the incidence of physician-diagnosed prostatitis was 4.9 cases per 1000 person-years. Two studies suggest that about one-third of men reporting prostatitis symptoms had resolution after 1 year. Patients with previous episodes and more severe symptoms are at higher risk for chronic pelvic pain. Discussion: The prevalence of prostatitis symptoms is high, comparable to rates of ischaemic heart disease and diabetes. Clinical evaluation appears necessary to verify that prostatitis is responsible for patients' symptoms. Prostatitis symptoms may increase a man's risk for benign prostate hypertrophy, lower urinary tract symptoms and prostate cancer. We need to define natural history and consequences of prostatitis, develop better algorithms for diagnosis and treatment, and develop strategies for prevention.