Diverticulitis and diverticulosis, together known as diverticular disease, are conditions that occur in the large intestine, or colon. Diverticulosis is the condition in which small sacs called diverticula bulge out of the wall of your colon. Diverticulosis, a common condition as people age, rarely triggers any symptoms. In fact, many people who have diverticulosis never develop diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is a much more serious and potentially dangerous condition in which one or more of the bulging diverticula become inflamed and/or infected.
Diverticulitis symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, usually on the left side of the abdomen
- Nausea and or vomiting
- Fever and/or chills
- Cramping in the lower abdomen
- Constipation or, less commonly, diarrhea
Causes and Risk Factors
Diverticular disease may be caused by a diet low in fiber. Diverticulitis was once believed to be caused by eating nuts. This is no longer the case. Eating a low-fiber diet in combination with a high intake of animal fat appears to be the main dietary factors that increase the risk of developing diverticulitis. Other risk factors include:
- Lack of exercise
- Certain medications, such as steroids, opioids; or, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
If you have symptoms such as abdominal pain (usually on the left side) fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping or constipation, your doctor may perform a physical exam. A colonoscopy may also be ordered. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum to view and examine the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy can identify abnormalities and help diagnose diverticulitis. Imaging tests, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan, may also be performed.
Mild diverticulitis can be treated with rest, pain relievers, antibiotics and dietary changes. A high-fiber diet softens the waste material and helps stools pass more quickly through your colon. A diverticulitis diet includes plenty of fiber, with foods such as:
- Fresh fruits
- Beans and legumes
Fiber absorbs water, increasing the soft bulky waste in your colon. Therefore, it is important to also drink plenty of water to avoid constipation caused by the absorption of water. People with more severe cases of diverticulitis, such as those with abdominal pain, a temperature above 101°F (38.3°C), poor response to oral antibiotics or other serious infections, may be hospitalized for treatment and given intravenous antibiotics and may sometimes require surgery.
A diverticular condition requiring abdominal surgery can be performed using conventional open surgery procedures, or with minimally invasive surgery using robotics. With robotic colon surgery, a specialized camera displays magnified and three dimensional images of the intended surgical area. The surgeon sits at a console and directs the robotic arms. These arms hold the surgical instruments and use their multi-dimensional wrists to smoothly maneuver into areas that are harder or impossible to reach in traditional surgery. Several benefits to robotic surgery are less pain, fewer complications, a shorter hospital stay and shorter recovery time.
Living with Diverticulitis During COVID-19
If the best diet for diverticulitis includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, keeping a good stock of these items during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic may be challenging, depending on your location. Grocery stores may carry only limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. Or you may be trying to limit trips to the grocery store to avoid infection. Ideas to avoid these potential problems include:
- Buying frozen vegetables
- Blanching and freezing fresh vegetables such as green beans and broccoli
- Stocking up on canned beans, soups, and grains
- Growing leafy vegetables such as lettuce, kale, and spinach in flowerpots on your porch or in your garden or greenhouse
If you develop a serious case of diverticulitis, avoiding hospitals to limit exposure to COVID-19 is a legitimate concern. However, diverticulitis can become a dangerous condition. If you have symptoms of severe diverticulitis, including constant, unexplained abdominal pain, especially in conjunction with fever and constipation or diarrhea, contact our office immediately for emergency treatment.
If you have diverticulitis or suspect you might, please contact us today to make an appointment with one of our experienced specialists. For the safety of our patients, doctors and staff, we have implemented telemedicine appointments as well. To schedule a telemedicine appointment, please call us at (201) 646-1121.