There are many conditions that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms and discomfort, and diverticulitis is just one of them. Although most people will develop intestinal diverticula at some point in their lives – especially as they get older – not everyone will develop diverticulitis, which is what happens when these intestinal pouches become infected. Learning how to recognize signs of diverticulitis can help you identify when it’s time to seek medical attention for this problem.
Read on to learn more about what diverticulitis is, its signs and symptoms, and how to avoid diverticulitis.
What is diverticulitis?
As its name suggests, diverticulitis is a condition caused by the presence of diverticula in the digestive system. Diverticula are small bulges or pockets of tissue that can form over time in your bowels.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the presence of diverticula in your bowels is a condition known as diverticulosis. However, this diagnosis can change under certain circumstances. When these diverticula become infected, swollen, or inflamed, the condition is known as diverticulitis. Diverticulitis and diverticulosis both affect the large intestine and colon.
Diverticula are a common problem of the intestines, and in reality, they’re unlikely to cause much trouble in most cases. However, many people still develop diverticulitis pockets and all the symptoms that go with them.
Diverticula can form practically anywhere in your digestive tract, but they’re far more common along your lower left side, which corresponds with the sigmoid colon.
What causes diverticulitis?
In most cases, diverticula occurs when a weaker portion of your intestinal wall gives way under increased pressure. This results in small pouches of intestinal tissue that protrude through the wall of your bowels. Diverticulosis is very common in people of Western origins, and it has been estimated to affect approximately 50% of all people over the age of 60 years old.
The prevalence of diverticulosis increases with age, and the condition affects practically everyone who reaches the age of 80 years old to some degree, although many people never experience any symptoms.
Diverticulitis, on the other hand, happens when diverticula tears, which results in inflammation and in some cases, infection. Diverticulitis can cause a single or multiple diverticulitis pouches.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are several risk factors that can increase your chance of developing either diverticulosis or diverticulitis problems at some point in their lives. These risk factors include:
- Being 40 years old or older
- Male sex
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating a low fiber diet that doesn’t include enough fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, or grains
- Not exercising regularly
- Eating a diet high in red meat and fatty acids
- Taking NSAIDs frequently, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
- Smoking or consuming tobacco
- Being constipated
Symptoms of diverticulitis
Diverticular disease symptoms can vary greatly from one person to the next. Most people who only have diverticulosis never show any worrisome symptoms, although they may experience tenderness over the affected area and mild abdominal cramps. Other patients with diverticulosis could have diarrhea or constipation in some cases.
However, diverticulitis signs and symptoms are typically much more noticeable. Diverticulitis attack symptoms can include:
- Pain and tenderness in the area of diverticulitis
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal cramping
- Rectal bleeding
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, diverticulitis can lead to complications if it’s left untreated. Some of the potential complications of diverticular disease include:
- Infected abscesses
- Fistula between the colon and other organs, such as the bladder or vagina
- Gastrointestinal perforation
- Partial or complete intestinal obstruction or blockage
- Peritonitis, which is an inflammation and infection of the abdominal lining
How to prevent diverticulitis
Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy lifestyle changes that can aid in diverticulitis prevention. Some of the most effective steps you can take to prevent diverticular disease include:
- Including plenty of fiber in your daily diet
- Drinking enough fluids
- Avoiding cigarettes and tobacco
- Exercising regularly
Can diverticulitis pain be on the right side?
Yes. Although left-sided abdominal pain is more common in diverticulitis, patients can still experience pain on the right side of their abdomen. In fact, right-sided pain can sometimes be more intense in some patients.
Can ibuprofen cause diverticulitis?
NSAIDs – including ibuprofen – have been associated with a higher risk of developing diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding. Patients who have documented diverticulosis should seek medical guidance before taking these medications.
Can steroids cause diverticulitis?
Research has found that treatment with steroids can increase the risk of diverticular perforation, especially in senior patients. Steroid treatment should always be monitored closely by a healthcare professional.
Can you have a fever with diverticulitis?
Yes. As we mentioned above, patients with diverticulitis can experience fever and/or chills. However, not everyone with diverticulitis has this symptom, and you should still seek medical assistance if you have other diverticular disease signs without a fever.
Diverticulitis - mayoclinic.org
Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis of the Colon - my.clevelandclinic.org
Definition & Facts for Diverticular Disease - niddk.nih.gov