Pouches that can form in your intestines are called diverticula while the infection or inflammation of those pouches are called diverticulitis. Most people have the pouches without knowing it as they are usually painless and cause few symptoms. They can be detected during a colonoscopy and may be signaled by either abdominal cramping that goes away after a bowel movement or passing gas or by red blood in bowel movements. Diverticulitis symptoms are more noticeable and can include severe abdominal pain and fever.
In the majority of cases, uncomplicated diverticulitis goes away on its own within days. In approximately 5% of cases, it can be severe with a massive infection or rupture of the bowel.
In chronic diverticulitis, inflammation and infection may go down but never clear up. Over time, this can lead to a bowel obstruction causing constipation, diarrhea, bloating and are stomach pain. If the obstruction continues, abdominal pain and tenderness will increase, making you feel sick and/or throw up.
While science isn’t certain as to what causes diverticula, studies suggest that genes may play a role. Your chances of getting diverticulitis rise with age as it’s more common in people over 40.
Risk Factors for Diverticulitis
- Being overweight
- Cigarette smoking
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High fat/low fiber diet
- Taking certain drugs such as steroids, opioids, ibuprofen or naproxen
How to Prevent Diverticulitis
In an effort to prevent diverticulosis, individuals with diverticula should follow a high fiber diet which means more fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and less red meat.
Treatment for Diverticulitis
For mild forms of diverticulitis an oral antibiotic may be prescribed along with an over-the-counter pain medication, a low-fiber or a liquid diet may be recommended until symptoms improve. For severe diverticulitis, rectal bleeding or a repeat bout of diverticulitis, hospital admission to receive intravenous antibiotics and fluids may be required or surgery considered.