Have you ever heard of a condition called Diverticulitis? Maybe you or a loved one has suffered from this painful condition, it really is pretty common in western society now days. About 35% of Americans over the age of 50 have diverticulitis while about 58% over the age of 60 have it. Many have this condition and will never know it. But when it does raise it’s ugly head to let you know it is there, you will damn well know something is wrong for sure. There will be no doubt that something painfully wrong has gone wrong in your colon.
What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. They are found most often in the lower part of the large intestine (colon). Diverticula are common, especially after age 40, and seldom cause problems.
Sometimes, however, one or more of the pouches become inflamed or infected. That condition is known as diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a marked change in your bowel habits.
Mild diverticulitis can be treated with rest, changes in your diet and antibiotics. Severe or recurring diverticulitis may require surgery.
Again, from MayoClinic.org
- Pain, which may be constant and persist for several days. The lower left side of the abdomen is the usual site of the pain. Sometimes, however, the right side of the abdomen is more painful, especially in people of Asian descent.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal tenderness.
- Constipation or, less commonly, diarrhea.
How the Stand American Diet causes Diverticulitis
Today in America, our Standard American Diet has become pretty crappy. Not only are we consuming too much sugar, unhealthy fats, sodium and preservatives, many of us have diets that are quite low in fiber. In a nutshell, because of low fiber diets, people are constipated to some extent, and therefore are not as regular with their bowel movements as they should be. The problem with this is when these people strain to have a bowel movement, greater pressure than normal builds up in their colon. The result of this pressure is the formation of bulging pouches within your colon and digestive tract. Think of what happens to a rubber inner tube with a weak spot when you inflate it; a bubble will form where the rubber is weak. Your colon does the same thing from it’s internal pressure which causes marble-sized pouches to protrude through the colon wall.
Diverticulitis occurs when the pouches, or rather, diverticula tear, resulting in inflammation or infection or both. When this happens, you are going to feel it in a big way, I guarantee. This is a very painful condition.
About 25 percent of people with acute diverticulitis develop complications, which may include:
- An abscess, which occurs when pus collects in the pouch.
- A blockage in your colon or small intestine caused by scarring.
- An abnormal passageway (fistula) between sections of bowel or the bowel and bladder.
- Peritonitis, which can occur if the infected or inflamed pouch ruptures, spilling intestinal contents into your abdominal cavity. Peritonitis is a medical emergency and requires immediate care.
- Aging. The incidence of diverticulitis increases with age.
- Obesity. Being seriously overweight increases your odds of developing diverticulitis.
- Smoking. People who smoke cigarettes are more likely than nonsmokers to experience diverticulitis.
- Lack of exercise. Vigorous exercise appears to lower your risk of diverticulitis.
- Diet high in animal fat and low in fiber. A low-fiber diet in combination with a high intake of animal fat seems to increase risk, although the role of low fiber alone isn’t clear.
- Certain medications Several drugs are associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis, including steroids, opioids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).
Now, study those risk factors and think about how this painful condition is self inflicted. Do you watch what you eat and try to manage your weight? Do you try to make healthy choices and do all that you can to not be obese? Do you really need a cigarette to live? How often do you exercise? Or, are you a couch potato? Those risk factors are all about life choices you make every day of your life. Are you setting a good example for your children so they do not know the misery that can come from diverticulitis? I sure hope so.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes normal bowel function and reduces pressure inside your colon. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Eat more fiber. A high-fiber diet decreases the risk of diverticulitis. Fiber-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, soften waste material and help it pass more quickly through your colon. Eating seeds and nuts isn’t associated with developing diverticulitis.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Fiber works by absorbing water and increasing the soft, bulky waste in your colon. But if you don’t drink enough liquid to replace what’s absorbed, fiber can be constipating.
If your symptoms are mild, you may be treated at home. Your doctor is likely to recommend:
- Antibiotics to treat infection, although new guidelines state that in very mild cases, they may not be needed.
- A liquid diet for a few days while your bowel heals. Once your symptoms improve, you can gradually add solid food to your diet.
- An over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
This treatment is successful in most people with uncomplicated diverticulitis.
If you have a severe attack or have other health problems, you’ll likely need to be hospitalized. Treatment generally involves:
- Intravenous antibiotics
- Insertion of a tube to drain an abdominal abscess, if one has formed
You’ll likely need surgery to treat diverticulitis if:
- You have a complication, such as a bowel abscess, fistula or obstruction, or a puncture (perforation) in the bowel wall
- You have had multiple episodes of uncomplicated diverticulitis
- You have a weakened immune system
There are two main types of surgery:
- Primary bowel resection. The surgeon removes diseased segments of your intestine and then reconnects the healthy segments (anastomosis). This allows you to have normal bowel movements. Depending on the amount of inflammation, you may have open surgery or a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) procedure.
- Bowel resection with colostomy. If you have so much inflammation that it’s not possible to rejoin your colon and rectum, the surgeon will perform a colostomy. An opening (stoma) in your abdominal wall is connected to the healthy part of your colon. Waste passes through the opening into a bag. Once the inflammation has eased, the colostomy may be reversed and the bowel reconnected.
This condition is pretty damn serious. Last Saturday I attended a Celebration of Life for a young friend who had suffered from diverticulitis for some time. His diverticulitis finally burst and spilled the contents of his colon into his abdominal cavity. The resulting fatal case of peritonitis caused this young man to die a very painful death. He leaves behind a wife, and three young daughters.
Might there be cases where an individual suffers the worse case scenario with diverticulitis despite having consumed a good healthy diet combined with regular exercise? Sure, I guess it might be possible. However, go back and read the risk factors again, and think about how many of them might apply to you, and then decide if you are going to do anything about it. Life is about choices, choose wisely my friends. Choose wisely.