What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is a condition that occurs when sac-like pouches (diverticular) form in the wall of the colon and become inflamed or infected. When stool or food is not broken down, it becomes trapped in the diverticular resulting in pain, swelling, bleeding and infection of the abdomen. It is similar to appendicitis and has the potential to rupture if left untreated. Diverticulitis can lead to a number of serious problems such as an abscess, bleeding, bowel obstruction, fistula, perforation or peritonitis.
This condition develops from a condition called diverticulosis – tiny, bulging pouches in your digestive tract. Diverticulosis increases with age and approximately half of the American population aged between 60-80 years old have it.
Diverticulitis occurs in 10-25% of people with diverticulosis at some time in their lives. Most people are not even aware that they have diverticulosis because these pouches rarely cause problems. Diverticula is mostly found in the large intestine but can form anywhere including in your esophagus, stomach and small intestine.
Diverticulitis is usually diagnosed during an acute attack. A physical examination which includes a rectal examination is performed and a medical history taken.
The symptoms and signs of diverticulitis include:
Tests to confirm diagnosis
- Certain tests will confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis and they include:
- Blood test to check for signs of an infection
- Stool test to look for the presence of blood in feces
- CT scan to detect the inflamed or infected pouch
- Colonoscopy is a slender, lighted camera which is inserted through the rectum and into the colon to examine the entire lining of the colon
- Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonoscopy) uses CT scanning to obtain an interior view of the colon
- Barium enema is an injection of dye into the rectum that makes your colon show up on an x-ray to detect any abnormalities.
What Causes Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis occurs when weak spots in your colon are formed due to increased pressure. The colon has to work extra hard to push stool forward, and this pressure causes pouches to develop which can lead to inflammation or infection.
Factors that can predispose diverticulitis
Predisposing factors that may contribute to diverticulitis include:
- Low-fiber diet leads to low-bulk stool increasing the pressure
- Aging (older than 50) causes changes in collagen structure that may weaken the colonic wall
- Genetics – In Asian people right-sided diverticula are more common while Western people tend to have left-sided diverticula
- Colonic motility disorders
- Use of corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Help for Diverticulitis
Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms; whether you have an infection, or it is the first time you have diverticulitis. For mild cramps and stomach pain, you should avoid eating whole grains, fruit or vegetables to allow your colon to rest. It is very important to relax and remain calm so practice deep breathing exercises or meditation.
Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to kill the infection or recommend over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). A heating pad placed low on your abdomen will also help to relieve pain and discomfort.
For more severe cases of diverticulitis, you may require hospitalization where fluids and antibiotics are given intravenously. Surgery may be required if a fistula, long-lasting chronic pain, bowel obstruction, abscess or recurring diverticulitis develops. Two types of surgical procedures such as primary bowel resection and bowel resection with colostomy are performed to remove the affected area of the colon.
A healthier, more effective approach to treating and preventing digestive disorders is by using natural remedies. While many over-the-counter and prescription medications bring symptomatic relief, they also have harsh side effects.
Natural remedies such as herbal and homeopathic remedies, on the other hand maximizes heath and reduces imbalance in the body’s system. Herbs such as Matricaria recutita (German Chamomile) and Filipendula ulmaria, (Meadowsweet) contain anti-inflammatory and soothing properties effective for digestion problems. Ulmus fulva (Slippery Elm) and Sutherlandia frutescens (Cancer Bush) are excellent herbs used to treat digestive pain and irritation.