When people get older, they often develop bulging pouches within the large intestine’s lining called diverticula. When those pouches get inflamed or experience infection, the resulting painful condition is called diverticulitis. You may feel pain in the abdomen, as well as nausea, bloating, constipation and diarrhea among other things.
It’s believed that a diet low in fiber contributes to diverticulitis. Some medical experts speculate this is why people who live in Asia and Africa, where the diet is generally high in fiber, don’t suffer as much from this condition.
The tricky part is, diverticulosis doesn’t have many known causes, coupled with few symptoms, so many people are unaware they have it.
Keep in mind you may not experience symptoms at all. Sometimes, people have diverticulosis for years before symptoms manifest themselves, if ever. Most times, they fall ill from an infection in the pouches of the diverticula and that’s what drives them to get to the doctor’s office.
If your doctor says you have painful diverticular disease, this is a condition brought on by irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS. In this case, you may experience diarrhea and cramping yet with no fever or other factors that would signal an infection.
To determine if you have diverticulitis, the doctor will conduct tests such as barium enema, which is an x-ray exam, or a colonoscopy.
Be on the lookout for these signs of diverticulitis:
- Pain in abdomen (most times, on the lower left side)
- Cramps that worsen when you move
- Fever, chills
- Loss of appetite
Complications can spur symptoms as well, such as when a fistula (an abnormal connection between organs) develops between the colon and urethra or vagina, allowing stool or air to pass through these openings. IBS and urinary tract infections can also display similar symptoms to diverticulitis.
Doctors aren’t exactly sure what causes diverticulitis but they do know that bacteria thrive in those pouches, which is what leads to infection and inflammation. Small tears may occur in the wall of the intestine when there is pressure. Infection can enter that way, resulting in peritonitis (inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal wall and covering the abdominal organs) if infection spreads into the abdominal cavity.
It’s unclear why diverticula form in the colon wall of the large intestine, but doctors speculate they form when high pressure inside the colon pushes up on weak spots. This is a sensitive spot, as this is where blood vessels pass through the layer of muscle to give blood to the inner wall. Also, uncoordinated movements of the colon can also add to development of diverticulitis.
If you are diagnosed with diverticulitis, your doctor will recommend certain dietary guidelines to follow to help you feel better. At first, you’ll be put on an all-liquid diet as part of your treatment, such as:
- Fruit juices
- Ice pops
Then, once your symptoms stabilize, you can start to resume your regular diet, with some modifications. Choose low-fiber foods such as white bread, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products at first, then introduce high-fiber foods gradually. That’s because fiber softens up your stools so they can more readily pass through your colon and alleviate pressure in the digestive tract.
In general, women younger than the age of 51 should have a goal of 25 grams of fiber each day, while men of the same age should shoot for 38 grams of fiber. Women over 51 should ingest 21 grams daily, while men of the same age should ingest 30 grams daily, suggests WebMD.
Try these food choices for more fiber:
- Whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals
- Beans: kidney, black, etc.
- Fresh fruits such as pears, apples and prunes
- Vegetables such as potatoes, squash, peas and spinach
Your doctor can also refer you to a registered dietitian if you’re running into some trouble developing or maintaining a meal plan that’s just right for you. Your doctor may tell you to take supplements such as Metamucil or Citrucel a few times a day. Also, be sure to drink plenty of water every day to stay hydrated.
If you have diverticulitis, avoid foods that are difficult to digest, such as nuts, corn, popcorn, and seeds, which can get stuck in the diverticula and result in inflammation. At this time, though, there are no medical studies around that can prove this is indeed the case. These are just suggestions, so be sure to work with your doctor or nutritionist to come up with a list of acceptable foods to eat.
Call 681-342-3690 for an appointment with a gastroenterology specialist today.
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