Diverticular disease – the basics
Understanding the problem
Diverticular disease is a common condition that affects many people. It is believed to be caused by increased pressure in the colon. The colon weakens with age, and, in some people, small pouches (diverticular) can bulge out at the weakest points along the colon. Diverticular disease actually consists of two different conditions: diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
Diverticulosis occurs when the small pouches, known as diverticula, form in the walls of the large intestine or colon. Ten percent of Americans over age 40 and about 50% of Americans over age 60 suffer from diverticulosis.
Diverticulitis occurs when undigested food or waste matter is trapped inside these pouches, causing the pouches to become inflamed or infected. Between 10% and 25% of people with diverticulosis develop diverticulitis.
Diverticular disease: causes and symptoms
Constipation is one of the main causes of increased pressure in the colon and the diverticular disease that can develop.
Normally, the colon muscles move in waves, expanding and contracting as they propel waste through the system. But when waste material is hard and dry, the muscles have to squeeze tighter and use more force. This can increase the chance of forming pockets in the colon.
• Lack of exercise
• Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
• Stress and anxiety
• Side effects of medication
• Changes in life and routine, such as pregnancy and travel
If you have diverticulosis, there’s a good chance you don’t’ know it because symptoms are rare. Usually, the small pouches (diverticula) that form in the wall of the colon do not cause any problems and can only be detected by x-ray film, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy.
When symptoms are present, they may include constipation, mild pain, cramping, diarrhea, and bloating. Other conditions- such as irritable bowel syndrome – have similar symptoms. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or any bleeding. He or she can determine the appropriate treatment.
The most common symptoms of diverticulitis is abdominal pain or cramping, which usually occurs on the left side. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, and constipation.
Diagnosis and treatment
See your doctor. If you think you have symptoms of diverticular disease, talk to your doctor. He or she will ask about your bowel habits, take a history, and may also perform a physical examination.
In some cases, more tests may be necessary, including blood tests, x-ray films, and a colonoscopy (which allows the doctor to examine your colon by using a tube-like instrument with a video camera).
If the diagnosis is diverticulosis, your doctor may recommend that you increase the fiber in your diet. Nuts and corn, though high in fiber, may aggravate your diverticulosis, so discuss with your doctor which sources of fiber would be best for you.
If you have diverticulitis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for the infected diverticula, and you may need a liquid diet to heal the colon. As the healing progresses, your doctor may recommend a low-fiber diet. If the symptoms are severe or frequent, surgery may be required.
Help prevent future problems
There are several ways you can help prevent and manage diverticular disease. The following tips will help keep your colon functioning normally:
• Eat more fruit fiber and drink plenty of fluids. This has been shown tohelp soften stools and to promote regular elimination.
• Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. Delaying now can mean straining later, which increases the pressure in your colon.
• Exercise regularly. It aids digestion
Fiber is key in helping manage diverticular disease
Fiber is an important part of the diet, even though it contains no nutrients, vitamins, or minerals. Essentially, it’s the part of a plant that can’t be digested. Fiber adds bulk to keep other foods moving through the digestive system, and it holds water, which softens the stool for easy elimination.
There are two types of fiber, both of which are needed for proper bowel function:
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in water. It helps restore regularity and soften stools. Good sources include oats, beans, peas, many types of fruit, and products containing psyllium.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and moves through your digestive system largely intact. It helps keep you regular by bulking up the stool. Good sources include wheat bran, while-grain cereals and breads, and many types of vegetables.
The best ways to increase your fiber intake. Eat a variety of high-fiber foods throughout the day, replace foods low in fiber content with foods containing higher amounts of fiber, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Gradually add fiber to your diet. Too much too soon can cause a bloated feeling and abdominal cramps. It may take several weeks to add the daily recommended amount of dietary fiber to your diet. While you’re working on it, be sure to drink plenty of fluids.
Adding a fiber supplement to your diet
100% – natural fiber. Metamucil contains all-natural psyllium husk, which is a great source of soluble fiber – per gram, it contains more than eight times the amount of soluble fiber found in oat bran.
Easy to take. One adult serving of Metamucil provides 3 to 6 grams of dietary fiber and can be taken daily as a dietary fiber supplement. It can also be taken for the relief of occasional constipation.
Fiber choices. With Metamucil, fiber can be taken in a variety of convenient forms, including powder, wafers, and capsules. And Metamucil Capsules Plus Calcium provides an additional source of calcium.
Clinical studies have shown that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 7 grams of soluble fiber per day from psyllium husk, as in Metamucil, may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol.