A diverticulum is a medical term applied to an outpouching of a hollow or fluid-filled structure in the body. It is usually used to imply something that is not normally present. Some organs where a diverticulum is frequently encountered include the bladder, the colon, and the heart.
Diverticulitis develops from the formation of these diverticula outside the colon. Specifically, diverticulitis happens when one of the diverticula becomes inflamed, and then ruptures. The rupture results in the infection of the tissues surrounding the colon.
Diverticulitis develops with age. As a person ages, pressure within the colon causes pockets of tissues or sacs to push out of the colonic walls, forming a diverticula. Most times, diverticula seldom cause any problems so most people don’t even know they have them. When these diverticula become inflamed or infected, however, they can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, fever, and a change in your bowel habits. Diverticulitis then occurs. When bleeding starts from the diverticulum, it is called a diverticular bleeding.
Mild cases of diverticulitis can usually be cured just by resting, changing your diet, and taking antibiotics. For more serious cases, however, you might need to have surgery in order to remove the diseased portion of your colon. The good news is that most people who have diverticulosis never develop diverticulitis. The best part is you can actively prevent diverticulitis by including more foods that are high in fiber in your diet.
If you suspect that you’re suffering from diverticulitis, have yourself be diagnosed by a doctor. There are a variety of tests that they can do to confirm or deny your suspicions. The most common method is via barium enemas or barium x-rays to visualize the colon. Through this method, diverticula are seen as barium filled pouches that protrude from the colon wall. Direct visualization of the intestine can also be done through flexible tubes that are inserted to the rectum and advanced to the colon. The tubes can either be sigmoidoscopes (short ones) or colonoscopies (longer ones). The advantage of this particular test is that the doctors can have a visual on the condition and exclude any other diseases that might mimic diverticular disease.
Causes of Diverticulitis
As mentioned above, diverticulitis is the result of the diverticula being infected. Diverticula, on the other hand, are not inborn; they develop when weak places in your colon or intestine give in to pressure. Age is one of the factors that causes pressure on the walls. Hard stools, or slow transit of these stools in your colon, can also increase the pressure. Likewise, repeated straining during bowel movements (like when you suffer from constipation) also contributes to the pressure and the formation of diverticula. There are several ways that the diverticula can be infected. Some have proposed that small pieces of feces can find their way to the diverticula and start an infection. Still, others propose that a small injury in the diverticula can cause bacteria present in the digestive tracts to get into the sac. Whatever the means, though, the results are ultimately the same: bacteria get in the diverticulum and when it ruptures, it spreads through the tissues surrounding the colon, giving you diverticulitis.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of diverticulitis. You will also feel tenderness on the left side of the lower abdomen. If there is an infection caused by the bacteria that have already surrounded the tissues around the colon, then you will also feel nausea, vomiting, and a feeling of being hot, even though there is no fever. Cramping on the abdomen as well as constipation or diarrhea may also occur. There may also be bleeding, either on the stool or when you perform bowel movement. If not treated right away, diverticulitis may develop very serious complications. Worsening abdominal pain is usually a sign that it has become severe, together with a persistent fever. Severe vomiting may also happen. In cases like this, go to your doctor right away.
Getting Rid of Diverticulitis
If you have a mild case of diverticulitis, you can pretty much get rid of it via a change of lifestyle and rest. Here are some tips to help you in your recovery:
- Rest your bowels. At the beginning of your condition, let your colon rest and heal by not taking in any fiber. Once your symptoms have subsided—usually after three to four days—you may start your diet.
- Take antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe broad spectrum antibiotics to kill the bacteria that are infecting the tissues surrounding your colon. Be sure to finish your entire course of medication, even if you’re already starting to feel better. Only stop when your doctor has given you the go-ahead to do so.
- Get plenty of fiber. Once you’ve rested well enough, introduce fiber in your diet. Fiber helps soften your waste and helps it pass more quickly and smoothly through your colon, reducing the pressure in your digestive tract. You can get fiber from fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. Aim for about 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. Substitute fiber for foods that are high in fat. Since fiber can induce bloating or gas, it’s a good idea to gradually introduce fiber into your diet instead of adding it in to your diet right away.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise, aside from keeping your cardiovascular system in shape and keeping you generally healthy, also promotes the proper functioning of your bowel. It also reduces the pressure inside your colon, preventing the formation of diverticula. The exercise doesn’t need to be rigid and hard. Aerobic exercise or light jogging for 30 minutes is often enough to keep your body in tip-top shape.
- Don’t delay your bowel urges. If you feel that you need to go, then don’t try and delay it all the time. Doing so will cause you to have harder and more compact stools that require more force to pass through your colon, increasing the pressure in the process.
- Consider surgery. If your diverticulitis has become severe, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the infected tissues. There are two types of diverticulitis surgery. The first is called primary bowel resection and it is the most common surgery for people with diverticulitis. The second is called bowel resection with colostomy. It is used if you have so much inflammation in your colon that bowel resection is not possible.
Diverticulitis may become complicated, with the infection spreading to the lining of the abdominal cavity, leading to the disease called peritonitis, a potentially fatal disease. For this reason, you should contact your doctor should you feel anything that you think is serious, especially if you’re already diagnosed with diverticula. It is better to stop the problem while it’s early, rather than paying the price when it’s too late.