Diverticulitis is one of the most painful conditions that affect middle age and elderly people. It is defined as an inflammation of one or more diverticula within the intestinal wall. Diverticula are small pouches or sacs created by herniation of mucosa into the wall of the colon.
To put that in plain English, small pouches form in the intestines which become inflamed and infected causing a lot of pain every time you have a bowel movement. In fact, you can even experience discomfort when you are not having a bowel movement.
Recently a friend of mine was hospitalized with this condition so I had to learn all about it to understand what was happening to him. For more than a year, they tried to treat it with medications such as antibiotics and steroids, but he would still have spells about once a month where he could not do anything.
Finally he was convinced that the best way to deal with the issue was to have surgery. Unfortunately, they were not able to remove all other affected area and decided to reroute his intestines so that his lower digestive tract could have a chance to heal itself. He spent over a month in the hospital, lost over 30 lbs and was about as depressed as you could be. After all, he was only 45 years old and had a bag attached to his body for his bowel movements.
He finally left the hospital but they have not reversed the procedure as of it. It has been 3 months now and he was able to return to work in a limited capacity. Although he is being told that they will reverse the procedure in the future, there is no set date at this time. He now admits that he wished he had never had the surgery in the first place though, so keep that in mind.
As I said, I had to learn a lot about it over the last few months, so I decided to write an article about this disease to inform people of what they do to try to prevent diverticulitis and what they will be up against if they are diagnosed with it in the future.
What Causes Diverticulitis?
Researchers have not identified one specific cause, but it is mostly attributed to increased pressure in the intestines due to constipation caused by uncomfortable bowel movements. However, that is not the only way these sacs within the intestinal tract can form and become inflamed and infected.
More and more evidence suggests that the causes of diverticulitis are directly correlated to a diet that is high in processed, refined food. When interviews are performed, most people diagnosed with the disease are determined to have eaten a low-fiber diet for most of their lives also.
However, this is not necessarily the only cause. There are incidences that do not fall into either suspected cause so the disease appears to be result from a combination of factors and genetics may play a role.
What Should You Eat to Prevent Diverticulitis?
It is crucial that you get enough fiber in your diet. While some people opt for high fiber cereals, the better option is to get your fiber from natural sources like plenty of fruits and vegetables. Most doctors recommend a diet consisting of 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.
The fiber absorbs water which will make your stools soft and bulky. That allows them to pass easily through the intestinal tract without creating any pressure on the walls.
Conventional wisdom once suggested that you should avoid foods such as nuts or seeds. The thinking was that remnants from those foods could get trapped in the diverticula and cause inflammation and infection.
However, modern research shows that there is no correlation between a diet high in nuts and seeds and diverticulitis. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that they may actually be beneficial as part of a high fiber diet to prevent the disease.
Other recommendations to avoid diverticulitis:
- Drink up to 8 glasses of water each day
- Exercise up to 30 minutes each day
- Do not hold your bowel movements
What Should I Eat if I Have Diverticulitis?
If you are currently suffering from this disease, a high fiber diet is NOT recommended during the periodic spells of pain and suffering caused by the inflammation in the intestinal tract.
Most health care provides recommend soft food such as soups, and the consumption of a lot of water during this time. It is recommended that you avoid caffeinated beverages during any flare ups.
It is imperative that you begin to understand the types of foods that tend to cause your bouts of diverticulitis. It is recommended that you keep a food journal and note any foods you have eaten recently before any bouts to help determine what may be setting off your digestive tract.
Once the symptoms begin to subside, you can gradually reintroduce more fiber into your diet. However, if you experience any bleeding, constipation or bloating, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
What are the Symptoms of Diverticulitis?
Most patients that have been diagnosed with the disease tend to have the following symptoms:
- Abdominal tenderness and pain occurs in the lower left quadrant for over 70% of patients. This corresponds with the portion of the sigmoid colon.
- Change in bowel habits including diarrhea and frequent abdominal pain and constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Flatulence and bloating
- High fever
It can also cause pain or tenderness on the lower right side of the abdomen however, most people mistake this for appendicitis.
The disease usually occurs in bouts every few weeks, or sometimes months.
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How does a Doctor Diagnose Diverticulitis?
A physician will determine if you are suffering from diverticulitis after a physical exam which includes a thorough medical history and laboratory blood tests.
They may also order a colonoscopy if the pain is more severe and occurs more often. If you have never had one of those, you are in for a treat.
How is Diverticulitis Treated?
Once you are diagnosed with diverticulitis, your treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and how frequently they occur.
If you are having a bout once a month, you may initially be treated with antibiotics to treat the infection within the diverticula. Patients suffering from mild diverticulitis are usually put on a clear liquid diet and given broad spectrum antibiotics for a week to 10 days. During the first 48 hours, you can only have soft foods like soup, gradually introducing other foods after 72 hours.
Over-the-counter pain medication is recommended at first unless the disease progresses to the point where you are incapacitated with pain. At that point, your physician may prescribe something stronger for the pain.
However, if it is occurring once a week, a more aggressive treatment may be called for which includes surgery. In severe cases, a colon resection may be performed which removes the diseased part of the bowel and reattached the health sections.
Researchers cannot say for sure what causes diverticulitis but it appears to be related to a low fiber diet which causes pressure in the intestinal lining leading to the formation of the painful sacs.
The best thing you can do is to get more fiber in your diet by eating natural foods like fruits and vegetables, exercise four to five times a week at a moderate pace and drink a lot of water.
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