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Diverticular disease is a condition that occurs when a person has problems from small pouches, or sacs, that have formed and pushed outward through weak spots in the colon wall. Each pouch is called a diverticulum. Multiple pouches are called diverticula.
The colon is part of the large intestine. The large intestine absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid form. Diverticula are most common in the lower part of the colon, called the sigmoid colon.
The problems that occur with diverticular disease include diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding. Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticula become inflamed, or irritated and swollen, and infected. Diverticular bleeding occurs when a small blood vessel within the wall of a diverticulum bursts.
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When a person has diverticula that do not cause diverticulitis or diverticular bleeding, the condition is called diverticulosis. Most people with diverticulosis do not have symptoms. Some people with diverticulosis have constipation or diarrhea. People may also have chronic
cramping or pain in the lower abdomen—the area between the chest and hips
One in ten Americans over age 40 and half of those over age 60 have a diverticular disorder. But this isn’t a disease of aging per se; it’s a disease of lifestyle, particularly lack of fiber and exercise. A few simple measures can help.
Diverticular disease is a condition that occurs when a person has problems from small pouches, or sacs, that have formed and pushed outward through weak spots in the colon wall.
Other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and stomach ulcers, cause similar problems, so these symptoms do not always mean a person has diverticulosis. People with these symptoms should see their health care provider.
Diverticulosis becomes more common as people age, particularly in people older than age 50.3 Some people with diverticulosis develop diverticulitis, and the number of cases is increasing. Although diverticular disease is generally thought to be a condition found in older adults, it is becoming more common in people younger than age 50, most of whom are male.
Often there are no symptoms.
In some cases, bloating, gas, nausea, and constipation alternate with diarrhea.
People with diverticulitis may have many symptoms, the most common of which is pain in the lower left side of the abdomen. The pain is usually severe and comes on suddenly, though it can also be mild and then worsen over several days. The intensity of the pain can fluctuate. Diverticulitis may also cause
*fevers and chills
*nausea or vomiting
*a change in bowel habits—constipation or diarrhea
In most cases, people with diverticular bleeding suddenly have a large amount of red or maroon-colored blood in their stool. Diverticular bleeding may also cause
*dizziness or light-headedness
When to Call Your Doctor
If you have fever, chills, and abdominal swelling or are vomiting — these may be signs of a ruptured diverticulum.
If you have blood or mucus in the stool or any other symptoms of diverticulitis.
If diverticular pain does not subside despite self-care.
Reminder: If you have a medical condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
What It Is
There are two main types of diverticular disorders: diverticulosis and the more serious diverticulitis. In diverticulosis, the inner lining of the large bowel pushes through the muscular layer that usually confines it, forming pouches (diverticula) ranging from pea-size to more than an inch in diameter. Though diverticulosis often produces no symptoms, food can get trapped in these pouches, which then become inflamed and infected. The result is diverticulitis, whose symptoms are impossible to ignore.
What Causes It
Most cases of diverticulosis probably stem from a low-fiber diet. A lack of fiber means the colon must work harder to pass the stool, and straining during bowel movements can aggravate the condition. A diet low in fiber also increases the likelihood of diverticulitis because waste moves slowly, allowing more time for food particles to become trapped and cause inflammation or infection. And lack of exercise makes the colon contents sluggish. The tendency toward such disorders may run in families.
What is fiber?
Fiber is a substance in foods that comes from plants. Fiber helps soften stool so it moves smoothly through the colon and is easier to pass. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is found in beans, fruit, and oat products. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is found in whole-grain products and vegetables. Both kinds of fiber help prevent constipation.
Constipation is a condition in which an adult has fewer than three bowel movements a week or has bowel movements with stools that are hard, dry, and small, making them painful or difficult to pass.
High-fiber foods also have many benefits in preventing and controlling chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, and cancer.
Based on symptoms and severity of illness, a person may be evaluated and diagnosed by a primary care physician, an emergency department physician, a surgeon, or a gastroenterologist—a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases.
The health care provider will ask about the person’s health, symptoms, bowel habits, diet, and medications, and will perform a physical exam, which may include a rectal exam. A rectal exam is performed in the health care provider’s office; anesthesia is not needed. To perform the exam, the health care provider asks the person to bend over a table or lie on one side while holding the knees close to the chest. The health care provider slides a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum. The exam is used to check for pain, bleeding, or a blockage in the intestine.
The health care provider may schedule one or more of the following tests:
Blood test. A blood test involves drawing a person’s blood at a health care provider’s office, a commercial facility, or a hospital and sending the sample to a lab for analysis. The blood test can show the presence of inflammation or anemia—a condition in which red blood cells are fewer or smaller than normal, which prevents the body’s cells from getting enough oxygen.
*Computerized tomography (CT) scan. A CT scan of the colon is the most common test used to diagnose diverticular disease. CT scans use a combination of x rays and computer technology to create three-dimensional (3–D) images. For a CT scan, the person may be given a solution to drink and an injection of a special dye, called contrast medium. CT scans require the person to lie on a table that slides into a tunnel-shaped device where the x rays are taken. The procedure is performed in an outpatient center or a hospital by an x-ray technician, and the images are interpreted by a radiologist—a doctor who specializes in medical imaging. Anesthesia is not needed. CT scans can detect diverticulosis and confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis.
*Lower gastrointestinal (GI) series. A lower GI series is an x-ray exam that is used to look at the large intestine. The test is performed at a hospital or an outpatient center by an x-ray technician, and the images are interpreted by a radiologist. Anesthesia is not needed. The health care provider may provide written bowel prep instructions to follow at home before the test. The person may be asked to follow a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the procedure. A laxative or enema may be used before the test. A laxative is medication that loosens stool and increases bowel movements. An enema involves flushing water or laxative into the rectum using a special squirt bottle. These medications cause diarrhea, so the person should stay close to a bathroom during the bowel prep.
For the test, the person will lie on a table while the radiologist inserts a flexible tube into the person’s anus. The colon is filled with barium, making signs of diverticular disease show up more clearly on x rays.
For several days, traces of barium in the large intestine can cause stools to be white or light colored. Enemas and repeated bowel movements may cause anal soreness. A health care provider will provide specific instructions about eating and drinking after the test.
*Colonoscopy. The test is performed at a hospital or an outpatient center by a gastroenterologist. Before the test, the person’s health care provider will provide written bowel prep instructions to follow at home. The person may need to follow a clear liquid diet for 1 to 3 days before the test. The person may also need to take laxatives and enemas the evening before the test.
In most cases, light anesthesia, and possibly pain medication, helps people relax for the test. The person will lie on a table while the gastroenterologist inserts a flexible tube into the anus. A small camera on the tube sends a video image of the intestinal lining to a computer screen. The test can show diverticulosis and diverticular disease.
Cramping or bloating may occur during the first hour after the test. Driving is not permitted for 24 hours after the test to allow the anesthesia time to wear off. Before the appointment, people should make plans for a ride home. Full recovery is expected by the next day, and people should be able to go back to their normal diet.
A health care provider may treat the symptoms of diverticulosis with a high-fiber diet or fiber supplements, medications, and possibly probiotics. Treatment for diverticular disease varies, depending on whether a person has diverticulitis or diverticular bleeding.
High-fiber diet. Studies have shown that a high-fiber diet can help prevent diverticular disease in people who already have diverticulosis.2 A health care provider may recommend a slow increase in dietary fiber to minimize gas and abdominal discomfort. For more information about fiber-rich foods, see “Eating, Diet, and Nutrition.”
Fiber supplements. A health care provider may recommend taking a fiber product such as methylcellulose (Citrucel) or psyllium (Metamucil) one to three times a day. These products are available as powders, pills, or wafers and provide 0.5 to 3.5 grams of fiber per dose. Fiber products should be taken with at least 8 ounces of water.
Medications. A number of studies suggest the medication mesalazine (Asacol), given either continuously or in cycles, may be effective at reducing abdominal pain and GI symptoms of diverticulosis. Research has also shown that combining mesalazine with the antibiotic rifaximin (Xifaxan) can be significantly more effective than using rifaximin alone to improve a person’s symptoms and maintain periods of remission, which means being free of symptoms.4
Probiotics. Although more research is needed, probiotics may help treat the symptoms of diverticulosis, prevent the onset of diverticulitis, and reduce the chance of recurrent symptoms. Probiotics are live bacteria, like those normally found in the GI tract. Probiotics can be found in dietary supplements—in capsules, tablets, and powders—and in some foods, such as yogurt.
To help ensure coordinated and safe care, people should discuss their use of complementary and alternative medical practices, including their use of dietary supplements and probiotics, with their health care provider. Read more at www.nccam.nih.gov/health/probioticsExternal NIH Link.
How Supplements Can Help
Although supplements cannot reverse diverticulosis once a pouch has developed, they (and changes in your diet) can help prevent or ease flare-ups. Providing fiber that forms bulk, psyllium acts to relieve or prevent constipation. Ground flaxseeds are also rich in fiber and ward off infection by keeping intestinal pouches clear. These two can be taken together long term first thing in the morning to assist with the initial bowel movement, along with probiotics such as acidophilus. The fiber helps protect the acidophilus from stomach acids and carries it into the intestine, where it alters the bacterial balance in the digestive tract, enabling the body to fight off intestinal infections. Acidophilus is especially important if you’re taking antibiotics during a flare-up.
What Else You Can Do
Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to boost your fiber intake to 20 to 30 grams a day.
Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or other fluids every day.
Exercise regularly to help prevent constipation. And if you become constipated, take advantage of natural laxatives, such as prunes.
Aloe Vera Juice
Wild Yam/Peppermint/ Valerian
Dosage: 1 tbsp. powder dissolved in water or juice twice a day.
Comments: Be sure to drink extra water throughout the day.
Dosage: 2 tbsp. ground flaxseeds in glass of water twice a day.
Comments: Be sure to drink extra water throughout the day.
Dosage: 2 pills twice a day between meals.
Comments: Get 1-2 billion live (viable) organisms per pill.
Aloe Vera Juice
Dosage: 1/2 cup juice twice a day.
Comments: Containing 98% aloe vera and no aloin or aloe-emodin.
Dosage: 500 mg L-glutamine twice a day on an empty stomach.
Comments: When using for longer than 1 month, add a mixed amino acid complex (follow package directions).
Dosage: 1 cup bark powder, prepared like hot cereal each morning.
Comments: Or use tea (1 tsp. per cup) 3 times a day.
Dosage: As a tea, 1 cup 3 times a day.
Comments: Use 2 tsp. dried herb per cup of hot water; steep for 10 minutes, then strain. Alternatively, try melissa tea.
Wild Yam/Peppermint/ Valerian
Dosage: 1 cup tea 3 or 4 times a day.
Comments: Use 2 parts wild yam, 1 part peppermint, 1 part valerian per cup of hot water; steep 10 minutes, strain. Sweeten to taste.
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Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.