by Kimberley Allen R.N.
As we age small pockets or puches called diverticula form in our colon. Diverticulosis is what it’s called when you have multiple
diverticula in your colon. Diverticulitis occurs when the pouches or diverticula become infected and inflammed. Diverticuluitis is most commonly diagnosed in people rangeing in age from 50years and older. It is estimated that 65% of people 85 and older has some level of diverticular disease in the colon. However, young people can also be affected. It is believed that 10 – 25% of the people diagnosed with diverticulosis will eventually develop diverticulitis.
The incidence of diverticular disease in Western, developed countries has been increasing. The incidence of diverticular disease is much greater in the Western culture where it is extremely rare in other cultures like Africa and Asia.
There are several theories on what causes diverticula to develop in the colon. The most prevelant is that the pouches develop as a result of increased pressure against the wall of the colon. It’s what causes the pressure that leads to the pouches or
diverticula that’s up for debate. For years it was believed that a low fiber diet was a leading cause of diverticulosis. However, recent studies that the opposite may be closer to the truth. One study done to specifically test the low fiber diet theory actually found that “a high fiber diet and increased frequency of bowel movements are associated with greater, rather than lower, prevelance of diverticulistis”. In the past it was also believed that a diet containing nuts, seeds, and corn aggrivated diverticulitis. Now, recent research has shown that is not the case, that they may actually aide in preventing diverticulitis. Even though recent studies have shown that a high fiber diet does not lessen the risk of diverticular disease many are quick to point out that diverticular disease is rare in countries where the people have a diet high in fiber which keeps the stool soft and is much more prevelant in Western industrialized countries like the US where the typical diet is high in refined carbohydrates and sugars and low in fiber. They also point out that diverticular disease only emerged agter the steel-rolling mills were introduced as they significantly reduced the fiber in flour and other grains. Other factors that experts believe increase your risk of developing diverticular disease include the changes that occur with aging like the decreased elasticity and strength of the bowel wall.
Another factor is..you guessed exercise! Too many people fail to acknowledge the significance of adequate exercise in disease
prevention. Obesity, especially around the mid section has also been shown to increase the risk of developing diverticular disease.
The most common symptom of diverticulitis is the sudden onset of severe abdominal pain, usually in the lower left side. Others include a change in bowel habits and abdominal tenderness, there can also be nausea and vomiting, abdomial bloating and possibly bleeding fdrom the rectum.
The treatment of diverticular disease depends on the severity of the disease. If you have a sudden attack of diverticulitis with severe symptoms and it’s your first attack the Dr may order a liquid or low fiber diet and antibiotics. However, if you are having frequent attacks and are at risk for complications your Dr may wish to discuss more advanced treatment. There are a variety of options available to you and your Dr including surgery.
Prevention is always better than treatment. Drs. can not say exactly what you can do to prevent diverticular disease other than to avoid the factors that put you at risk, because once diverticula are formed they are permenant. The best way to avoid diverticulardisease is to eat a well balanced diet that is high in fiber and whole grains. This help keep the stool soft and avoids constipation which increases the pressure on the colon wall. EXERCISE! Participating in regular exercise whether it’s walking or playing actively with the kids.
Regular exercise is crucial not only in avoiding diverticular disease but others as well. Maintaining your body weight is also crucial, but if you have a well balanced diet and exercise the weight can usually be managed without making additional adjustments.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.