Diverticulitis Symptoms 101: What is It, Causes, Symptoms, and How to Prevent

We always want to say that thanks to evolution, certain diseases are extinct.

We have vaccines now, we have medications that we didn’t have a century or two ago.

But in some cases, evolution has actually been bad.

For example, diverticulitis, a condition that was rare before the 20th century, is now one of the most common health problems in the Western World.

Diverticulitis is a group of conditions affecting the digestive tract.

The most serious type of diverticular disease, diverticulitis symptoms echo most of the symptoms of digestive problems.

What is diverticulitis?

First, you need to understand what are diverticula.

These formations, pouches that occur along the digestive tract, commonly in the colon, are key components of diverticulitis.

The pouches form when weak spots in the intestinal wall balloon outward.

Once the pouches become inflamed, or bacteria cause an infection, you have diverticulitis.

The condition requires treatment because the diverticulitis can lead to serious health problems.

Diverticulitis vs. diverticulosis

A lot of people make a mistake between these two conditions.

Diverticulosis is the condition that happens when the small and bulging pouches (called diverticula) develop in the digestive tract.

At this point, these pouches are not inflamed or infected.

The moment they become infected or inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis.

You need to know that diverticula themselves are harmless.

As long as they are not inflamed or infected, you have nothing to worry.

Diverticulosis is a condition that causes no symptoms and does not need any treatment.

If and when diverticulosis causes symptoms, the condition is called “symptomatic uncomplicated diverticular disease”, or SUDD.

The symptoms are similar to irritable bowel syndrome and mostly manifest as bloating and abdominal pain.

The good news is that only 10-20% of people with diverticulosis develop SUDD, and of those, only 4% get acute diverticulitis.

The timeline for progression is usually up to 7 years.

And of that 4 % with diverticulitis, only 15% develop complications [1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5331592/.

Causes of diverticulitis

At the moment, doctors have yet to identify a clear reason or cause of diverticulitis.

Health care experts agree in one thing, that the condition is caused by a number of causes.

Only one of the causes is not enough, but combine them together, and you have a problem.

Doctors also agree that the root of the cause of the condition is fecal matter blocking the opening of diverticula, leading to infection and inflammation [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5265196/.

The reasons for that blockage can vary from one person to another [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28494576.

With that in mind, here are some factors that can lead to diverticulitis.

  • Low fiber diet, or lack of dietary fiber has been suspected as a risk factor. However, research finally has some results and evidence [4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23954650. We’ve always known that fiber helps with bowel movement, and that is a key for diverticulitis.
  • Obesity is another risk factor that can lead to diverticulitis, particularly bleeding. Studies still need to identify the reason, but it is a risk factor you need to consider [5]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18996378.
  • Some scientists believe that diverticulitis is a hereditary condition. One study confirms that there is a higher risk coming from genetics [6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23313967.
  • Lack of physical exercise and a sedentary lifestyle is another potential risk factor [7]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22008890. People who exercise at least 30 minutes per day have a lower risk of developing the condition.
  • One study suggests that people with vitamin D deficiency are at risk of developing diverticulitis [8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23954650. The study suggests that while vitamin D does not directly increase the risk, it worsens the symptoms of the condition.
  • Smoking increases the risk of complicated diverticular disease, including diverticulitis [9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=21462366.

What are the symptoms?

Being that diverticulitis is a digestive problem, most of the symptoms are closely related to digestion problems.

That makes it hard to diagnose because symptoms are similar to other digestive problems.

However, there are some symptoms that signal you are dealing with a more severe condition.

With that in mind, here are the common symptoms:

  • Pain in the abdomen that occurs in the lower left side of the abdomen
  • Pain feels like cramping pain, and it is always worse on the left side
  • Nausea
  • Constipation, diarrhea, thin stools
  • Chills and/or fever
  • Pain in the lower left quadrant of the abdomen that increases on touch
  • Increased urge to urinate, urinating more often than usual
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding

According to studies, more than 17% of people with chronic symptoms of diverticulitis experience rectal bleeding or blood in the stool [10]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5265196/.

When to seek medical advice?

The moment you notice signs that might point to diverticulitis, you should seek medical advice.

If the symptoms get to a critical stage, then you are primed for a check by your physician, and possibly immediate treatment.

Here are some more warning signs:

  • Fever and chills that might indicate an infection accompanying the diverticulitis
  • Severe pain continues despite treatment for abdominal disorder, pointing that you have another disorder
  • Blood appears in stools indicating internal bleeding

Are there any complications?

As with most disorders, if left untreated, you might experience severe complications.

In terms of diverticulitis, if left untreated, they might result in the development of a tear or perforation of the intestinal wall.

When that happens, intestinal waste material can leak out of the intestines and into the surrounding abdominal cavity.

This results in problems like:

  • Obstruction and blockage of the intestine
  • Abscesses, walled off infections in the abdomen
  • Peritonitis, a painful and life-threatening infection of the abdominal cavity

In the case of abscesses, a treatment to drain the fluid is required.

Health care experts insert a needle into the infected area, and sometimes even surgery is needed to clean the abscess and remove part of the colon.

Infections can lead to scarring of the colon, and cause a partial or complete blockage.

Emergency treatment is required to treat complete blockage of the colon.

Can you prevent it?

How to prevent Diverticulitis
The good news is that diverticulitis can actually be prevented.

The best way to prevent the condition is by making sure you do not develop the small sacs called diverticula.

And you can do that just by altering your lifestyle and diet.

Here are some changes you can make to prevent diverticulitis:

  • Don’t use suppositories for constipation on a long-term basis. If you absolutely must use them, make sure to consult with a medical expert
  • Eat wholegrain breads, bran cereals, oatmeal, fibrous fresh fruits and vegetables that increase the bulk in your diet
  • Make sure to eat white flour, white rice, and similar refined products at minimum
  • Practice regular exercise to help the muscles in the intestine retain their tone and encourage healthy and regular bowel movement
  • Consume high fiber fruit to keep the bowel functioning
  • Prunes and prune juice helps with bowel movement, so eat them at a regular basis

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