Diverticulitis

One of your body’s most important systems is your digestive tract. Usually it hums along without a problem, but sometimes small pouches develop. These small pouches, or sacs, can form when the inside layer of your digestive tract pushes out through a weak spot. They can be found anywhere along the tract, but most often they’re on the left side of your large intestine. This part of the large intestine is called your descending and sigmoid colon. When one or more of these pouches becomes inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis.

Causes

Health care providers don’t know exactly why pouches develop in some people. There is evidence that diet, lifestyle and medications can increase the chance of these pouches becoming irritated, swollen, or inflamed. Factors such as not getting enough physical activity, being overweight and smoking could make the situation worse. Health care providers used to think that diverticulitis might be caused by food particles like corn kernels, nuts, or seeds getting trapped inside a pouch, but this is no longer the case. However, not eating enough fruits, vegetables and grains could increase the chances of getting diverticulitis.

Symptoms

Pouches alone may not cause any symptoms. However, if you develop diverticulitis, you will probably notice one or more symptoms. The most common symptom is lower belly pain that starts suddenly. Other symptoms include:

  • Tenderness when pushing in on the belly, especially on the lower left side
  • Cramping
  • Infrequent bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills, and
  • Loss of appetite

Diagnosis

You may first find out you have pouches when your health care provider does a colonoscopy to check for colon polyps or colon cancer. Colonoscopy is a test done by placing a flexible, lighted telescope into your colon through your rectum. These pouches may also be seen if you have an X-ray of your belly such as a CT scan.

Your health care provider can sometimes diagnose diverticulitis from your symptoms and by checking your belly for tenderness, especially if you have had a previous episode or are known to have diverticulosis. He or she may also;

  • Perform a blood test to see if your white blood cells are high; this is a sign of infection.
  • Take an ultrasound of your belly; this is an image of your colon made with sound waves.
  • Do an abdominal CT scan; this is an image of your colon made with many X-rays guided by a computer.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on how severe your condition is. A mild case can be treated at home and will clear up in a few days with rest. You will probably go on a liquid diet until your symptoms go away. Your health care provider may prescribe medications like antibiotics, stool softeners, and pain relievers. If your condition is severe, you may need a short hospital stay to get fluids and antibiotics through an IV. In rare cases, you may need surgery to drain a pocket of pus, called an abscess, or to remove part of the colon.

Prevention

Health care providers don't know for sure if pouches can be prevented. Getting lots of fiber in your diet may help to reduce your risk of diverticulitis.. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. You may also be less likely to develop diverticulitis if you;

  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid smoking, and
  • Avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin

Ask your health care provider before stopping any medication he or she has prescribed.

What you can do

Let your health care provider know right away if you feel any symptoms of diverticulitis. Some other things to do for better health are:

  • Cut back on red, fatty meat and foods that are high in fat
  • Ask your health care provider if you should use an over-the-counter fiber supplement
  • Quit smoking
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Avoid taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for routine pain or discomfort

What We Have Learned

Diverticulitis is inflammation in one or more small pouches that have formed in the large intestine.
True or false
The answer is True

The most common symptom of diverticulitis is a pain in the lower belly.
True or False
The answer is True

Leading a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and a healthy diet will not reduce the chances of developing diverticulitis.
True or False
The answer is False