Diverticulitis

What is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis, or diverticular disease, is an infected or inflamed pouch (or pouches) that have formed on the wall of the colon. When these pouches aren’t infected they are called diverticulosis and usually don’t have any symptoms. Physicians aren’t quite sure what causes these pouches to appear, but they believe that reduced fiber intake may be the cause. Without sufficient fiber, the colon has to work harder to push bowel movements, so this increased pressure could cause weak spots in the colon to develop pouches. If bacteria gets stuck in these pouches, diverticulitis may occur.

Besides a low-fiber diet, diverticulitis is also more common in seniors, those who smoke, those who are taking certain medications, and those who are obese.

What are the Symptoms of Diverticulitis?

Stomach pain is the most common symptom—especially pain that is felt when a person moves or pain that is specific to the lower left side of the abdomen.

Other symptoms include constipation, bloating, fever, lack of appetite, nausea, and occasionally vomiting. These symptoms may last for only a few hours or for many days. If the infection is severe, a person may also experience rectal bleeding.

Diverticulitis Causes

Doctors have found no sure-fire cause for diverticulitis. The cause of bacterial growth in the pouches called diverticula which can lead to harmful infections and infection has been linked to low fiber. This deficiency causes pressure that may create tiny perforations or tears in the intestinal wall. This is called peritonitis, an infection of the abdominal wall lining, a place that is ideal for the formation of infection spills heading into the abdominal cavity, as well as diverticula. Again, exact origins of why diverticulum forms in the wall of the colon or large intestine are not totally understood. However, physicians do think that diverticula forms primarily as a result of pressure in the colon, pushing up against the weakened points of the colon’s walls. Uncoordinated movements of the colon can also contribute to the development of diverticula.

How is Diverticulitis Treated?

Doctors can diagnose diverticulitis with x-rays, CT scans, and blood tests. Doctors may perform pelvic exams, pregnancy tests, or liver function tests to rule out other disorders before treating. Diverticulitis can be treated by introducing more high-fiber foods, like fruits and whole grains, in the diet and avoiding foods like nuts and seeds.

Doctors can also prescribe antibiotics or anti-spasmodic drugs, which prevent muscle spasms and pain. Bed rest, the use of heating pads, and a liquid diet may be necessary measures at first until a patient starts to feel better. However, if a patient doesn’t improve over time or has reoccurring symptoms, then surgery may be required to remove portions of the bowel.

Diverticulitis Prevention

Consuming a high-fiber diet has the potential to prevent diverticular disease and alleviate those suffering from symptoms. Of course, a person’s diet should be balanced while including at least five servings of vegetables and fruits as well as whole grains. An adult should try to consume 18g to 30g of fiber per day, though this may vary depending on height and weight. Your doctor will provide you with an accurate target of consumption based on your physiology.

Doctors recommend a gradual increase of your fiber intake over a few weeks. This gradual increase will counter act the side effects associated that can come with a high-fiber diet, flatulence and bloating. Those who are currently suffering from diverticular disease are advised to avoid nuts, corn, and seeds as they can block diverticular openings and further cause diverticulitis. People typically discover these symptoms on their own and they have often used probiotics to help with the symptoms as they introduce “good” bacteria into the gut.

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Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
December 15, 2017