Older people can develop small bulging sacs or pouches in the lining of the colon or large intestine. These pouches are called diverticula and the condition is called diverticulosis. When these sacs get infected or inflamed, a painful medical condition called diverticulitis is caused. Small bits of feces getting trapped in the pouches that result in a build up of bacteria that causes infections and inflammation of the pouches. Low-fiber diets can cause diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Symptoms of diverticulitis are severe and they can start suddenly and worsen within a few days. These symptoms can last for a few hours and extend to several days.
- Pain and cramps in the abdomen’s lower left side that is severe and sudden. This feeling can increase when a person moves. Sometimes the symptoms can be experienced on the right as well. Apart from pain, you can also experience abdominal tenderness that is mild and then increases in intensity or has fluctuating strength. This symptom of diverticulitis is not so common.
- Changes in bowel habits are another symptom of diverticulitis that can cause a person to be constipated or to have loose stools in turns.
- Nausea is a symptom that causes one to have a sensation of vomiting. This is followed by vomiting where food is forced out of the stomach and mouth.
- Loss of appetite when a person is feeling nauseous and vomits, food intake is reduced and this can lead to loss of appetite and weight loss.
- Fever occurs where the body temperature increases to above normal levels (98–100 °F) together with chilly and clammy feeling.
- Constipation occurs when bowel movements are less frequent and difficult. Normally, if a person goes 3 days without bowel movements he or she can be considered to be suffering from constipation.
- Diarrhea that causes loose and watery stools is a common problem and not serious unless it is linked to chronic diseases of the large intestine. Other symptoms of diarrhea include stomach cramps, bloating of the abdomen, nausea and vomiting.
- Bloated feeling together with gas and swelling of the stomach
- Bleeding from the rectum that is a less common symptom and can even occur without a person knowing
Some of these symptoms – like rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss and changes in bowel habits could be a result of colon cancer. Hence, anyone with some or all the above symptoms must consult a health specialist.
Complications of diverticulitis
Complications of diverticulitis can result in an abscess forming in the abdominal cavity. This can cause infection and inflammation to spread to the membranes lining the abdominal wall and cause peritonitis. Peritonitis causes a lot of swelling and pain and can be dangerous if not treated. When this infection spreads to other parts of the body, it can cause sepsis – a serious blood infection.
Another complicated symptom of diverticulitis is free perforation where holes form in the diverticulum allowing stools to penetrate the abdominal cavity and cause peritonitis.
The third complication is when a fistula is formed between the large intestine, vagina, bladder or urethra. Complications also occur due to bowel obstruction when the colon is blocked.
What to do?
Some simple home treatment can be adopted that can reduce attacks of diverticulitis or control symptoms of diverticulitis.
If symptoms are mild, then a heating pad placed on the stomach can alleviate mild pain and cramps. Slow, deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, meditation etc. can reduce pain. Mild non-prescription pain medications can also ease the pain. If this does not work, then you need to see your doctor who may recommend pain medication with a prescription
Treatment of diverticulitis
If you have tried home treatment and the pain in the abdominal region and back worsens, you have fever (above 100.4 °F), chills, nausea, vomiting, cramps, blood in stools etc., call your doctor at once. The doctor could treat you with antibiotics and recommend you drink lots of fluids and have complete bed rest. Mild symptoms respond well to treatment and a good diet. When serious complications occur as those mentioned above, surgery may be recommended.
Prevention and Precaution of diverticulitis
Diverticula are permanent once they are formed and no treatment can prevent complications from this disease. However, certain diets can help prevent the formation of further diverticula and keep you healthy and control symptoms.
Diverticulitis can be prevented if a person gets regular exercise, drinks plenty of water and eat a diet rich in high-fiber foods such as fresh fruits, whole grains and vegetables. Drinking lots of fluids is necessary with a high-fiber diet to keep stools soft. These high-fiber diets prevent constipation and therefore the formation of diverticula or worsening of the condition. It is important the foods you eat make stools soft, large and easy to pass without any strain.
This is why doctors suggest that people avoid corns, nuts, berries and seeds that can block diverticular openings and lead to diverticulitis. These foods contain hulls that can get caught in the diverticula, block and cause pain. Other foods to avoid are coarse grains, coconut, peas, beans, tomatoes, pickles, strawberries, dried fruits and cucumbers. Remove skin from vegetables and fruits before eating. Excess intake of tea, coffee and alcohol must be avoided. All these foods and beverages increase constipation symptoms.
Do not take too many laxatives to encourage regular bowel movements. Eating at regular times, drinking lots of fluids and eating the right foods encourage healthy bowel habits and keep symptoms of diverticulitis under control.