How to Fight Diverticulitis
Are you ready for a fight? If you have diverticulitis, you already know how difficult it is to live with the disease. If you are at risk for developing diverticulitis, there are steps you can take to help avoid it. So, how do you fight diverticulitis?
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is a type of diverticular disease, which appears in two forms that sound similar. Diverticulosis is the presence of small sacs in the colon that form as the result of small herniations (diverticula). Experts believe diverticulosis is associated with a low-fiber diet, obesity, and constipation.
Diverticulitis is the more serious form in which the diverticula become inflamed as do the sacs, which can also become infected. Symptoms of diverticulitis include painful abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. These symptoms can last from a few hours to weeks, and can result in weakness and weight loss.
Who gets diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis occurs most often in people who are older than 50 years old, yet up to 20% of patients are younger. Among people with diverticulosis, 10 to 25% go on to develop diverticulitis. Of these, about 15 to 25% may eventually need surgery because of complications associated with the disease, such as peritonitis (inflammation of the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity), intestinal rupture, and formation of abscesses.
How to fight diverticulitis
Attempts to prevent and fight diverticulitis can be approached on several fronts, including lifestyle and medication. Some studies indicate that a combination of the two can be beneficial.
In the lifestyle category, dietary study results show that a high-fiber diet can reduce the risk of developing diverticular disease. In a study conducted by experts at the University of Oxford, for example, researchers found that vegetarians were more than 30% less likely to develop diverticulosis or diverticulitis when compared with nonvegetarians.
The investigators evaluated 47,033 adults, including 15,459 who were vegetarians. Among their other findings was that people who ate a fiber-rich diet (about 25 grams daily) had a lower risk of going to the hospital and/or dying form diverticular disease when compared with people who consumed less than 14 grams of fiber daily.
In an effort to find ways to prevent acute diverticulitis, experts in Italy reviewed 31 studies. Overall they found that a combination treatment of rifaximin (a type of antibiotic) and fiber provided significant benefit compared with fiber alone, although even this approach did not completely prevent attacks.
A recent Mayo Clinic report made two important statements concerning diverticulosis and diverticulitis. One, there is no evidence that foods such as seeds, corn, popcorn, and indigestible nuts irritate diverticuli and result in diverticulitis.
Two, the report also focused “on the evidence that fiber intake may be beneficial in the prevention and recurrence of symptomatic and complicated diverticular disease.”
In addition to diet and age, other risk factors for diverticulitis include obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise. Another possible risk factor is stress.
Stress has been associated with a great number of health problems, including gastrointestinal disorders, because stress disrupts normal digestion, reduces the delivery of oxygen to the body, and also can compromise the immune system. This combination of factors can have a negative impact on the intestinal tract, especially if inflammation and infection are already present.
Therefore the fight against diverticulosis and diverticulitis should include lifestyle changes: a high-fiber, low-fat diet, stress management (e.g., deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, meditation), maintenance of a healthy weight, exercise, and no smoking. While these steps will not cure diverticulitis, they can improve the quality of life with the disease. And prevention is the best cure for any disease.
Crowe FL et al. British Medical Journal 2011; 343:d4131
Maconi G et al. Diseases of the Colon and Rectum 2011 Oct; 54(10): 1326-38
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Tarleton S, DiBaise JK. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2011 Apr; 26(2): 137-42
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