Diverticulitis Symptoms
and Causes of Diverticular Disease

You will not find diverticulitis symptoms mentioned in any of the ancient medical texts. Why? Because diverticulitis was practically non-existent before the 1900s.

Surprised? Well, diverticular disease is a very modern disease and unique to Western cultures since the beginning of the last century.



And it's not by coincidence. Since the late 1800s, manufacturers developed a process that made it easy to remove tough fibrous shells from wheat and other grains. (If you want to read about the best Diverticulitis Diet now click on the link, otherwise read on.)

Although breads made from refined grains were softer and smoother, they had considerably less fibre. Researchers believe that this gave rise to a lot of problems, including diverticulitis symptoms.

At first it was only a medical curiosity, rarely seen, now it's the most common disorder of the colon in Western populations, about half of all people over the age of sixty have diverticular disease and about 10% will have it by the age of forty.

It occurs more commonly in women than in men and with increasing frequency with age. But sadly, it's becoming more common in obese younger adults as early as age 20.

Interestingly, though, researchers in Israel found that young men are more likely to get diverticulitis than young women. Seventy-six percent of the people with diverticulitis in the younger group were men compared with only 33% in the older group!

Most people don't even know they've got the problem as it doesn't always cause symptoms. At other times, they confuse their diverticulitis symptoms with some other conditions such as indigestion or IBS.

Diverticular disease is still rare in primitive communities, such as African villages, that have not adopted Western eating habits, but very common in countries where low-fibre diets are common, such as the United States, England and Australia.

However, descendents of black Africans living in the United States are just as likely to have diverticular disease as whites, indicating it's not a genetic disease but, rather, a result of diet and life style.

What is Diverticulitis?

diverticula in the colon

Diverticulitis is a serious condition in which diverticula are perforated and become inflamed.

Diverticula are pea- or grape-sized protrusions, or pockets, in the intestinal wall.

They typically form if an individual suffers from frequent constipation, so eating a low-fibre diet is very likely to contribute to the development of diverticulitis.

Without sufficient fibre to soften and add bulk, stools are harder to pass. Greatly increased pressure is required to force small portions of hard, dry stool through the bowel.

As a result, the muscles in the colon thicken to help this abnormal situation, which results in even more pressure within the bowel.

All this pushing and straining to "go" causes some inherently weak portions of the colon to become even weaker and to develop diverticula. These pockets then trap food particles that ferment and decay, causing all kinds of gastrointestinal symptoms, including full blown inflammation, which is what diverticulitis is. Antibiotics and even surgery may then be needed.

The bad news is that once diverticula develop, they don't go away. The good news is that the diverticula themselves cause no symptoms. In fact, 85% of people who have diverticula are symptom-free - the condition is then known as diverticulosis - and never develop the diverticulitis symptoms.

Diverticulosis Symptoms

  • Often there are no symptoms

In some cases:

  • Bloating
  • Wind
  • Nausea
  • Constipation alternate with diarrhea

Diverticulitis Symptoms

obstruction of a diverticulum

Diverticulitis can be either acute or chronic. Symptoms include:

  • Cramping
  • Bloating
  • Tenderness on the left side of the abdomen that is relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • An almost continual need to eliminate
  • There may be blood or mucus in the stool

It is often when fever, chills, abdominal swelling and vomiting are present that people turn to their doctors, who then go on to discover diverticulitis.

These acute infections are treated with antibiotics and soft-fibre diet or liquid for the duration of the flare up.

The possible complications of diverticulitis are bleeding, bowel obstruction, fistulas, abscesses, perforation and peritonitis.

Peritonitis is an inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity and it can develop if a diverticulum ruptures and intestinal contents flow into the abdomen. So, if you think you're having a diverticular problem, call your doctor immediately.

Some other causes of diverticulitis

Although not getting enough fibre is clearly the number one cause of diverticulitis and diverticulosis, researchers have found that eating too many red meats or other high-fat foods can also be a problem.

Researchers from Harvard University and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that people who ate a low-fibre diet and also ate high-fat foods or 4 oz./100 g. of red meat a day were significantly more likely to get diverticular disease than those who merely skimped on the fibre.

I's not entirely clear what it is about red meats and high-fat foods that gives us a propensity for intestinal pouches.

What is clear is that meat contains no fibre and doesn't add bulk to stools the way fibre does, says William Ruderman, MD, a gastroenterologist in Orlando, Florida. "And often meats replace healthier fibre foods in people's diets, which adds to the problem", he says.

Another thing that makes the diverticulitis symptoms worse is smoking and stress. In fact, this is a classic example of stress related disorder. Poor eating habits compound the problem.

A poor diet, a family history of the disease, gallbladder disease, obesity and coronary artery disease all increase the chances of developing diverticulitis.

What Can You Do About It?

While it's sensible to go on a low-fibre diet while having a painful flare up of your diverticulitis symptoms to give your colon time to heal, once the inflammation resolves, a high-fibre diet is recommended.

But ease your fibre intake back up gradually by adding 5 to 15 grams of fibre per day. Although diverticular pouches don't go away, as mentioned, a high-fibre diet will prevent most future attacks.

Read the next page to find out what healing foods you should eat to ease the pain of diverticulitis and to prevent flare-ups


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RELATED PAGES:

Diverticulitis Diet and Healing Foods for Diverticular Disease

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High Fiber Diet Plan - Explaining how fiber works to keep you regular.

Benefits of Fiber and High Fiber Foods in Your Diet - Increasing fiber in your diet can help preventing and treating many conditions.

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Best Foods for Constipation (Part 2) - Discussing dark leafy greens, ginger, honey, rhubarb, squash and coffee.

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