Diverticulitis is an extremely painful condition that is caused when pouches, which form on the colon wall, become infected and inflamed. The exact cause of this condition is not determined, but a diet low in fiber is said to be a contributing factor. Fiber adds bulk to stool and without it, the colon needs to work harder than normal to move stool. This excessive pressure may cause the pouches to form in weakened areas of the colon.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Symptoms can last a few hours or a few weeks, if not properly treated. One of the more common symptoms is lower abdominal pain (usually on the left side of the body), which may worsen during physical movement.
Gas and uncomfortable bloating that you may be feeling can result in you not wanting to eat (even during normal scheduled times of food consumption).
Nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea, as well as a fever accompanied with chills are also commonly known symptoms associated with diverticulitis.
Treatment Options for Diverticulitis
Your doctor will listen to your symptoms list, perform a physical exam and conduct medical tests, such as taking blood and performing a CT scan and an X-ray.
Treatment will depend of the severity of the symptoms, but usually you will be prescribed something for the pain and antibiotics to treat the infection. Although you should feel better within 72 hours, it is strongly advised that you take the antibiotics exactly as directed. A liquid diet (until you begin to feel better) may also be recommended. Once the pain subsides, high-fiber solid foods can be slowly added back to your diet.
If the pain is so severe that consuming liquids is a chore, or complications are noticed, a hospital stay may become necessary. Hospital stay treatment may include intravenous antibiotics, as well as nutrients and fluids.
Surgery is never the first course of treatment, and it is only considered after all other treatments have failed to provide relief. In fact, less than six out of 100 individuals, who are diagnosed with diverticulitis, need to undergo a surgical procedure. Surgery is considered if pain is chronic, if there is an obstruction in the bowel, or there is an isolated infection (known as an abscess).
Draining an abscess
In some instances, a diverticulitis abscess (some area that is infected) may heal on its own. In other cases, draining the abscess is an alternative to surgery. A needle is inserted into the abscess, and the fluid that contains the infection is drained via a syringe. A computerized tomographic scan (also known as a CT scan) helps the doctor guide the needle to the abscess. Sometimes a drain is temporarily placed in the abdomen, to allow for natural drainage to continue.
Bowel rest is sometimes recommended for a colon that is blocked, vomiting is continuous, or abdominal swelling is excessive. While being provided IV fluids, a tube is placed in your nose and down into your stomach, and the stomach (known as a NG tube or nasogastric tube) will be continuously emptied of digestive juices for a few days. This process, often times helps to side-step surgery, as this should clear up any obstructions. If this does not work, surgery may become necessary to remove the diseased area of the colon.
Home treatments may help to ease the pain associated with diverticulitis attacks. Applying a heating pad to your belly may reduce cramps of mild diverticulitis attacks. Deep breathing and other types of relaxation techniques are said to help ease painful symptoms. Tylenol or other forms of over-the-counter acetaminophen may also help (remember to read, and more importantly follow, all the instructions on the bottle of medication). If these home remedies do not help, contact a medical professional, as prescription levels of pain medications may be necessary.
To prevent future diverticulitis attacks, you may consider changing to a high fiber diet plan. Fresh fruits, green leafy vegetables and whole grain breads are all included in a high fiber diet. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and avoid straining during a bowl movement. Unless prescribed by your attending physician, do not take laxatives or use enema, as it is easy to be become dependent on these for a bowel movement. In addition, enemas and laxatives are known to increase the pain due to diverticulitis.
Visiting your doctor on a regular schedule to monitor the diverticulitis is also helpful, in keeping future attacks under control. If you are currently being treated, your attending physician may want to see you, a few days after treatment begins, to confirm that the current treatment is working and that you are improving. After symptoms are under control (about six weeks after initial treatment), a barium enema X-ray or a colonoscopy may be scheduled, to check for any underlying conditions, such as colon cancer.