When pouches called diverticula arise in the lining of the large intestine, the condition is called diverticulosis. The disorder is quite common. It’s estimated that half the population develops diverticula by age 50.
Heredity may be a contributing factor. Doctors also surmise that pressure inside the intestine (colon) creates weak areas in its walls. Your diet should include adequate fiber and fluids so food can easily move through your colon. If not, your intestinal muscles must exert more force to propel hardened waste. Stools sitting in the colon for prolonged periods also increase pressure.
Diverticula don’t cause symptoms unless they become inflamed or infected. At that point, the condition is termed diverticulitis. Infection results when fecal material and bacteria lodge inside diverticula.
Red flags for diverticulitis include abdominal pain and tenderness, typically on the left lower side, that may worsen with movement. Pain may persist for several days. You may also feel feverish, bloated, gassy, and nauseous. Additional possible symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, cramping, rectal bleeding, and loss of appetite.
When diverticulitis is suspected, a gastroenterologist may check for fecal blood and order a CBC blood test. A high white cell count signals infection. To confirm diverticula, the doctor may perform sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Other diagnostic tests are CT scan and barium x-ray.
The type of care depends on the extent of progression. If pain is mild and there are no complications, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic and acetaminophen. You can also apply a heating pad, on a low setting, to your abdomen. Slow breathing in a quiet room helps relieve cramping.
Until inflammation abates, you may need to limit your diet to clear liquids, such as tea, fruit juice, gelatin, broth, and ice pops. Then, you’ll upgrade to bland foods, with a gradual increase in easily digested fiber.
For severe pain, vomiting, and serious infection, hospitalization is necessary. Doctors administer intravenous antibiotics, fluids, and nutrition for up to one week, allowing the colon to heal.
After your digestive system is comfortable with low-fiber food for two weeks, you’ll want to adopt a “diverticulitis diet.” This eating pattern emphasizes fiber-rich grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables.
For instance, stock your pantry with oatmeal, quinoa, millet, and whole-grain bread. Fill your fridge with apples, oranges, prunes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and peas. Your doctor may also recommend a fiber supplement. Aim for at least 21 grams of fiber daily if you’re a woman and 30 grams if you’re a man. Here’s a chart to aid you with calculations.
To produce soft stools, drink half your weight in water. For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, drink 80 ounces or 10 cups of water daily.
With prompt and diligent treatment, most cases of diverticulitis will improve within three days. At that point, your doctor may ask to see you, to confirm progress. If you’ve been prescribed an antibiotic, be sure to take it for as long as directed.
Key to avoiding flare-ups is regular evacuation. These four habits will help:
- Maintain a high-fiber diet and adequate hydration.
- Engage in a fun form of exercise for 30 minutes daily. Dividing the time into three 10-minute stints can make the total easier to achieve.
- Schedule time every day for a bowel movement, ideally after a meal. Try not to strain.
- See your gastroenterologist regularly so diverticulosis can be monitored. Your doctor may want to perform a colonoscopy to assess your intestine while checking for cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
Be at Ease
People often feel embarrassed and hesitant to reveal digestive problems. The entire staff of Digestive Care Physicians is understanding and compassionate. Therefore, you can feel comfortable discussing symptoms, questions, and concerns. Our doctors are caring listeners and skilled diagnosticians. For insight on the quality service we provide, here’s a sampling of patient reviews.
Our highly experienced staff includes four board-certified gastroenterologists, Dr. Nitin Parikh, Dr. Stephen Rashbaum, Dr. Ranvir Singh, and Dr. Long B. Nguyen. Here’s the complete list of conditions treated by our doctors.
We have four North Atlanta locations, in Alpharetta, Cumming, Johns Creek, and Lawrenceville. Patients also come to us from Canton, Duluth, Marietta, Milton, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Suwanee.
To prevent complications that can require surgery, diverticulitis must receive timely treatment. To schedule a consultation, please call us at (770) 227-2222. For a Lawrenceville appointment, call (470) 210-7766. You can also email us here.
We’re eager to help you feel better!
Note: This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Self-diagnosing and treating certain digestive disorders is risky. For expert gastrointestinal care, contact the staff of Digestive Care Physicians.
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