Chances are if you have diverticulosis, you don’t know it. That’s because the condition—which occurs when small pouches in your colon, called diverticula, bulge outward through weak spots—usually causes no discomfort or symptoms. But if those pouches become infected or inflamed, you’re likely to develop sudden severe pain in the lower left side of your abdomen accompanied by fever, nausea and a change in bowel habits. That’s called diverticulitis, which requires a doctor’s care.
One in 10 Americans over age 40 have diverticulosis, including about half of Americans over age 60. Your risk increases as you age and the outer wall of your colon thickens. As the colon’s passageway narrows, waste moves less easily and produces extra pressure that causes pouches to develop.
A low-fiber diet may be the biggest reason why so many Americans have diverticulosis, according to medical experts. Without adequate fiber, stools become hard and difficult to pass, increasing pressure in the colon.
If you have diverticulosis, your doctor may recommend a high-fiber diet and mild pain medication. But if you have mild diverticulitis, with its accompanying inflammation and stomach pain, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and suggest you rest and consume a liquid or low-fiber diet to relieve your colon.
One in two people with diverticulitis develop severe symptoms and need to be hospitalized for treatment. You may need surgery if the disorder doesn’t respond to antibiotics or if you develop bleeding, abscesses (infected areas with pus), tears, blockages or fistulas (abnormal tissue connections). In rare cases, an infected pouch may rupture and lead to peritonitis, an inflammation of your abdominal lining that requires immediate medical attention.
To prevent diverticulosis, try these tips:
- Eat 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or noncaffeinated beverages a day.
- Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.
- Empty your bowels promptly when you feel the urge.