What is Diverticulitis?
What is Diverticulitis?

As if there is not enough that can go wrong with one’s digestive system, there is also diverticulitis. Small pouches or diverticula may form in the weak areas of the large intestinal walls (colon). For most people, the pouches do not become an issue and it is known as diverticulosis. For 5-25% of people who form diverticula, it is thought that bacteria can grow in the pouches, which can lead to ruptured diverticula resulting in infections, inflammation, or bleeding. However, a recent clinical study found in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology published that this only occurs for 4% of people. The role of the colon is to store, extract water, salt, and nutrients, and excrete the waste materials received from the small intestine to the rectum. A low fiber diet is one possible cause of diverticulitis. Without the bulk provided by fiber, constipation can occur, the stool can become small and hard and the colon has to do extra work to move the stool down the colon into the rectum. This pressure may cause the formation of the diverticula.

Symptoms:
Those with diverticulosis do not have symptoms, but those with diverticulitis may have symptoms that can range from hours to weeks and even longer. Possible symptoms are:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fevers and chills
  • Bloating and gas
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Colon obstructions
  • Increase in white blood cells
  • Inflammation or infection
  • Abscess forming in the pouches
  • Narrowing of the colon

Risk Factors:

  • A low fiber diet: Diverticulitis is more common in the Western world but rare in Asia and Africa due to the amount of fibers in the respective diets.
  • Aging: This is less common in people under 40 but increases as we age. 50% of people 60 and older and 74% of people 80 and older have diverticulitis.
  • Those with irritable bowel syndrome may also have diverticulitis and there are overlapping symptoms. Therefore, some foods to possibly avoid are asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cherries, soda, foods and drinks with added sugar (including syrup and orange juice), dairy products, nuts, peaches, and pears.
  • Obesity.
  • Genetics: one is more likely to have diverticulitis if their parents or grandparents have it.
  • Popcorn, poppy seeds, and sesame seeds: There are some doctors who claim these food items may block the diverticular openings and lead to diverticulitis. There is not much scientific proof to back this up but it is recommended based on feedback from patients.
  • Sugar: Has been shown to play a role in diverticulitis.

Diagnostic Tests:

  • Blood and urine tests to check for infection or inflammation.
  • Liver tests to rule out other possible causes for the abdominal pain.
  • Barium x-rays, CT scan, ultrasounds, sigmoidoscopes (short tubes) or a colonoscopy (longer tubes) to assay the colon and look for inflammation or ruptured diverticula.

Treatment:
Once the pouches are formed, they do not go away, so it is important to prevent the further growth of diverticula.

  • Mild diverticulitis:
    • Doctors may recommend a liquid diet of broth, tea, gelatin, etc., to give the colon time to rest and heal. After 2-3 days, the patient should be able to eat solid foods.
    • Diverticulitis diet food list.
    • Antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-spasmodic drugs may also be recommended.
    • A heating pad, relaxation, meditation, and slow deep breathing may help with cramps and abdominal pain.
    • Eat a high fiber diet. We should be eating 15-30 grams of fiber per day. On average, in the United States we eat 8-12 grams per day.
    • Drinking plenty of water along with a high fiber diet helps in the formation of softer stools and reduces constipation.
    • Exercise can help with regular bowel movements.
  • Severe diverticulitis:
    • Intravenous antibiotics.
    • Drain abscess
    • Surgery to remove the damaged portion of the colon.

As with any digestive disease, it is important to be informed and work with your physician to make sure you are being diagnosed correctly and are receiving the best treatment.

1. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/diverticulitis-topic-overview
2. http://www.medicinenet.com/diverticulosis/article.htm
3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diverticulitis/basics/definition/con-20033495
4. http://patients.gi.org/topics/diverticulosis-and-diverticulitis/
5. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/diverticulitis-diet/art-20048499
6. http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-says-aggressive-treatment-for-diverticulitis-is-often-overused-201401156978

Photo taken by ClkerFreeVectorImages on Pixabay

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