Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
Diverticulitis is a medical condition that occurs when small bulging pouches attach to the lining of the digestive system. When these pockets get blocked with waste, bacteria can build up causing swelling and infection.
About 10% of people over the age of 40, and 50% of people over 60 will experience diverticulitis at some point in their lifetime. The risk increases with age and affects almost everyone over the age of 80.
The uncomfortable pressure of diverticula occurs when one or more of the pouches becomes inflamed and in some cases infected. This can result in severe abdominal pain, nausea, and a change in bowel habits. Cramp-like pain in the lower abdomen may come up suddenly and persist without letting up on the left side of the lower abdomen. Other indicators include vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, chills or fever and abdominal tenderness.
It is important to contact your physician if you have symptoms. Initially, your doctor will review your medical history and run tests to eliminate other possibilities including a CT (computed tomography) scan to look at your colon. Because symptoms can mimic an appendicitis, ovarian cyst, peptic ulcer, and irritable bowel syndrome, other tests such as ultrasound and endoscopy may be ordered to ensure the best diagnosis.
Treatment is determined by severity of the condition. Some diverticulitis is mild and can be treated with rest, diet, and antibiotics. In many cases, people don’t notice symptoms. You may not know you have the condition until you have a colonoscopy or some form of diagnostic imaging that exposes the bulging pouches in your colon.
If your diverticulitis is mild, home remedies might include a clear liquid diet to give your colon time to heal. It is important to speak with your physician so you are not staying on a liquid diet longer than recommended. Clear diets can include tea or coffee without milk or cream, clear broths, water, seltzer or flavored carbonated waters, and ice popsicles or fruit juices without pieces of fruit. Once symptoms improve, your doctor may suggest adding low-fiber foods such as eggs, fish, yogurt, milk, cheese and white rice or pasta.
Diverticulitis can also have deadly consequences if not treated properly or promptly. Severe or recurring diverticulitis may require hospitalization or surgery if antibiotics don’t clear up the infection, an abscess is too large to be drained, there is an obstruction in the colon, or the colon has been perforated. Inpatient treatment may include a clear liquid diet, intravenous (IV) antibiotics, elective surgery resection, abscess draining and antibiotics. In some cases, there may be some form of pain management.
Medical professionals don’t know what causes diverticula in the colon, however, they believe a low-fiber diet may play a role. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to move the stool forward. Preventative steps can include a diet high in fiber, drinking lots of water, regular exercise, limiting alcohol, stop smoking and using a stool softener.
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