When abdominal cramping lands you in the ER, and it is your colon’s fault, it’s not just a stomach bug. If you have diverticulitis, this is exactly what can happen! Diverticula are bulging pockets that form in the colon, and when one or more become infected, it can have serious consequences.
From Diverticulosis to Diverticulitis
Diverticula form when pressure inside the colon pushes against weak places in the lining. The presence of diverticula is a condition called diverticulosis, which is typically asymptomatic. Symptoms are more commonly associated with diverticulitis, which is when the harmless diverticula become inflamed or infected. Untreated, diverticulitis can lead to serious problems like blockage, tears in the colon, colitis (inflammation of the colon), or even rupturing of the colon. It is important to recognize the symptoms and start treatment to minimize lasting damage.
To diagnose diverticulitis, your doctor may use various tests such as urine or stool samples, liver function tests, and blood tests to rule out other possible causes of infection. A CT scan will confirm a diverticulitis diagnosis. Diverticulitis is commonly diagnosed during an acute attack. This is because diverticulosis does not generally present symptoms, and the initial symptoms of diverticulitis may not be severe enough to cause concern. Symptoms of diverticulosis include abdominal cramping that is continuous or frequent, fever, abnormal bowel movements (usually constipation), and rectal bleeding. Routine screenings can also pick up things like diverticula in the colon and may help identify a potential problem before symptoms occur.
Knowing if you have a predisposition toward diverticulitis can be helpful in assessing your symptoms as well. Having a high body mass index (BMI) and large waist circumference have been shown to increase your risk of diverticular bleeding and diverticulitis. Age is also a factor, as one-third of Americans over the age of 60 develop diverticulitis. Other factors like lack of exercise or low-fiber diets play a role in overall digestion and the onset and severity of diverticulitis.
Prevention of Diverticulitis
Many people are able to prevent diverticulosis from becoming diverticulitis by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Keeping the digestive tract clear and moving regularly keeps pressure from building up in the colon and forming or irritating diverticula. Likewise, diverticulitis is often treated by making some dietary changes like adding fiber and reducing the intake of animal fats. To add more fiber to your diet, aim to have at least five portions of fresh fruits and vegetables a day, plus whole grains. When adding fiber to your diet, try doing so a little at a time over the course of a couple weeks to help prevent uncomfortable side effects like bloating and flatulence. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids as well to help absorb the additional fiber. Otherwise, you could have the opposite effect and slow your digestion. Regular exercise will also help with overall digestion and treatment of diverticula-related illnesses.
If you are wondering whether you may have diverticulitis or are experiencing new or worsening symptoms after treatment, be sure to make an appointment today with GI Associates. We can help you evaluate a potential problem or monitor your ongoing illness with the right treatment plan for you.