The term diverticulitis is assigned to the phenomenon where the wall of the digestive tract forms small pouches that are inflamed. This happens when the digestive tract’s inner layer bulges through the outer layer’s weak spots. These pouches are individually known as diverticula.
When one or more of these diverticula become infected or inflamed, it results in the condition being discussed here. Although easy to treat, this illness of the digestive tract can lead to serious complications if not treated in time.
It is also one of the most commonly occurring conditions in the United States and is mostly seen among older people. It is also an illness that is more common among residents of developed and industrialized countries.
Primary Causes of Diverticulitis
The condition is mainly the result of heightened pressure on the wall of the intestines from the inner part of the intestine. Some of the common causes associated with this condition are described below.
- With the aging process, the outer part of the intestinal wall tends to get thicker. This leads to the constriction of the open space within the intestine. Consequently, this restricts the smooth flow of stool through the colon and therefore, increases the pressure on the walls.
- People who are habituated to straining repeatedly when having a bowel movement also contribute to the increase of pressure and the subsequent formation of one or many diverticula.
- Unnaturally hard stools also tend to have a slower transit time (the time taken for the stools to pass through the colon). This also greatly contributes to the increase of pressure on the intestinal walls.
In developed nations, the prevalence of this problem is mainly attributed to the lack of fiber among people’s regular diet. Some of the popular sources of this fiber include vegetables and fruits, legumes and whole grains.
Fiber is further classified into two types; soluble and insoluble. The soluble fiber forms a gel like substance during digestion while the insoluble type passes without any change at all. However, both types are necessary to keep the stool soft and easily movable. This aids greatly in preventing chronic constipation, which is prominent among the primary causes of diverticulitis.
Obvious Symptoms of Diverticulitis
People suffering from this condition rarely experience any direct symptoms. However, when any symptoms do appear, they generally tend to be mild and might include the following:
- Pain in the abdomen area
- Constipation (and in some cases, diarrhoea as well)
Having said so, these symptoms are not exactly specific to diverticulitis only. There are many other conditions of the digestive system that might exhibit one or all of the above mentioned symptoms. A person experiencing any one of the above symptoms should consult a physician immediately for the correct diagnosis.
Inflamed diverticula though is a far more serious condition and causes certain distinct symptoms. They are as follows:
- Some amount of bright red colored blood in the stool
- Abdomen pain (mainly in the lower left area)
If the condition is not treated in a timely manner, it can lead to some serious complications. Such a stage is manifested by severe forms of the above mentioned symptoms in addition to certain new ones. They are:
- Continuous fever
- Continuously worsening pain in the abdomen
- Intense pain or burning during urination
- Persistent vomiting (no liquid or food is tolerated)
- Prolonged constipation
- Rectal bleeding
Right Time to Seek Medical Care for Diverticulitis
Ideally, a person should seek the consult of a physician in cases where any one or more of the above mentioned symptoms are seen. The same also holds true if the symptoms first appear and then disappear on their own. The symptoms might be the result of this condition or can also be caused by other underlying illnesses. For these reasons, it is essential to consult a physician on the first exhibition of any of the symptoms.
Diagnosis of Diverticulitis
The diagnosis of this condition is usually begun by a physical inspection that involves a digital rectal examination. This might be followed by some blood tests, X-rays and CT scans. In some cases, the physician might also advise a colonoscopy or even a flexible sigmoidoscopy.
There are certain preventive measures and natural cures of diverticulitis that one can adopt to prevent the inflammation of existing diverticula and the formation of new ones. Some of the important ones include,
- Drinking plenty of fluids: This helps in keeping the stool soft and easily movable, thereby preventing constipation.
- Eating a diet with lots of fiber: This includes foods belonging to the whole grain, vegetable, and fruit families. These foods contain elements that are indigestible in nature and hence the body passes them through the colon rather smoothly and quickly.
- Getting adequate physical exercise: This helps in keeping the colon active and helps regularize bowel movements.
Treating diverticulitis medically involves certain steps that are similar to those mentioned above. A medical practitioner would want the affected person to adopt these steps before taking recourse to medications and drugs. The treatment is mainly geared towards making the stools easier to pass, which eliminates the conditions that lead to the inflammation of the diverticula.
- Consuming a diet with high fiber content
- Some medications to relieve pain
- Plenty of clear fluids
The actual medical treatment of diverticulitis depends upon the severity of the symptoms and the condition itself. Simple cases can be easily taken care of by the local physician or health practitioner. However, in case of slightly more complicated cases, the treatment usually consists of a combination of bowel rest and antibiotics.
The bowel resting period is usually for a couple of days and requires the affected person to consume only clear fluids (i.e. no solid food at all). This helps the colon heal by skipping the normal work it has to do.
For complicated cases that involve increased fever, pain and varying degrees of bleeding, hospitalization is advised. Here, the treatment process again varies as per the severity of thediverticulitis although the normal course consists of bowel rest, IV antibiotics and if required, surgery.