diverticulitisEveryone’s stomach hurts now and again. But if you’re having severe abdominal pains, accompanied by gas, nausea and maybe even fever, don’t ignore it. It could be diverticulitis.

What is diverticulitis?

Many people over the age of 40 have small pouches in the wall of their colon. When these pouches, called diverticula, are present, you have diverticulosis. That alone isn’t a problem. However, when these pouches become inflamed or infected, diverticulosis turns into diverticulitis, and the condition can become extremely painful and potentially dangerous.

What are the symptoms?

When infection forms in these pouches, you may experience severe abdominal pain, usually in the lower left side (but not always), fever, nausea, bloating and gas, and diarrhea or constipation. Symptoms of diverticulitis can last from a few hours to a week or more and be an isolated occurrence or occur repeatedly. When you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately as diverticulitis can become dangerous. 

When does it become dangerous?

The infection can cause pressure, which may lead to a tear in the wall of the large intestine, allowing the bacteria to get into the abdominal cavity. When this happens, peritonitis, or an infection of the lining of the abdominal wall, may develop (which is the same thing that happens when appendix bursts). If untreated, peritonitis can be life-threatening.

What causes it?

It’s not completely understood why the pouches that precede diverticulitis form. One suspected cause is a low-fiber diet, causing pressure to build up in the colon and push against weak areas in the large intestine wall.

How is it treated?

When you are diagnosed with diverticulitis, often your physician will recommend a liquid diet and slowly transition you back into eating solid foods with fiber. Treatment will probably also include antibiotics and painkillers. When there are complications or repeated occurrences of diverticulitis, surgery may be required; however, only 6 percent of patients require anything this invasive.

How do you prevent it?

The best ways to try to steer clear of diverticulitis is to eat high-fiber diet (lots of broccoli and All-Bran), drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.


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