Diverticulitis can cause excruciating pain. What causes this problem, and how can you prevent it?
As we grow older, many of us acquire little pouches, pockets or potholes in the large intestine. Doctors have a term for the presence of these diverticula: they call the condition diverticulosis. However, if food or feces get trapped in one of these potholes, the result can be infection and inflammation. Physicians term this inflammation diverticulitis.
The pain of diverticulitis can really get your attention. What can you do about it? In the midst of a diverticulitis crisis, you probably won’t feel like eating anything. Moreover, you shouldn’t; bowel rest with just liquids for a day or two is a good plan. If you start to run a fever or the pain is worsening, you should seek medical attention. Diverticulitis can be serious in itself, and it might also be confused with appendicitis, so it shouldn’t be ignored.
You may be able to sidestep the pain of diverticulitis by following a high-fiber diet for your diverticulosis. (Remember: diverticulosis is a chronic and painless condition, while the pain of diverticulitis signals an acute inflammation.) Plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains are appropriate to keep your large intestine healthy. They also are good food for your intestinal microbiota. In fact, if you don’t offer your intestinal microbes enough fiber, they may start to chomp on the mucus lining the intestines themselves. That could set you up for more trouble. If you have been told to avoid nuts and seeds, stay away from partially popped popcorn kernels.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, naproxen or diclofenac are popular for pain relief, but they can be irritating to the digestive tract. Other medications that could cause trouble in the large intestine include antidepressants and anticholinergic medicines. (Here’s a list.) Consequently, if your doctor prescribes one of these drugs, have a conversation about alternatives and explain that you want to avoid the pain of diverticulitis.
Robynne K Chutkan, MD, is on the faculty at Georgetown University Hospital and is founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness in Washington DC. Dr. Chutkan is a board-certified gastroenterologist and the author of three books on digestive health: Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution and The Bloat Cure.
Her website is https://gutbliss.com