Never heard of diverticulitis? It’s more common than you might think, and medical experts believe part of the reason is that our diets are too low in fiber -- a familiar refrain for many Americans.
Diverticulitis starts with a condition called diverticulosis, which many people have, without necessarily feeling any symptoms. Small pouches called diverticula bulge out through weak spots in the colon. About 10 percent of Americans older than 40 have diverticulosis, with the number growing to about 50 percent for people older than 60, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).
When the diverticula, or pouches, became inflamed or infected, however, that’s diverticulitis, suffered by 10 to 25 percent of those who show diverticulosis, said the NDDIC.
Diverticular disease is common in industrialized countries like the United States, yet rare in certain parts of Asia and Africa, where high-fiber diets with lots of fruits and vegetables are the norm, according to the online Health Encyclopedia of Loma Linda University Medical Center.
So diverticulitis prevention starts with a diet rich in fiber, with everything from beans to broccoli to potatoes to apples to oatmeal and whole-grain bread -- until you reach your recommended 20 to 35 grams daily. It all boils down to keeping regular bowel habits. Constipation leads to straining, which leads to bulges through the colon.
If you do receive a diverticulitis diagnosis, however, it is probably because your health care practitioner picked up on this common symptom -- abdominal pain and tenderness around the left side of the lower abdomen. Diagnostic tools include testing a stool sample, a digital rectal exam, abdominal ultrasound and colonoscopy.
Doctors believe a possible cause for infection and inflammation are particles of stool or bacteria becoming caught in the diverticula. When infection is present, there may be fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping and constipation, said the Loma Linda site.
Diverticulitis treatment might involve medications to control pain, to fight infection and inflammation or to control muscle spasms.