Continuing on from Part 1 of this story, my husband has just been diagnosed with Diverticulitis which has caused a 5cm Cyst in his abdomen. He has been seriously ill for nearly a month prior to this diagnosis and his condition was mis-diagnosed as a simple case of Gastroenteritis!
He has now been in hospital for three (3) days, has had the Cyst drained in a surgical procedure done under local anaesthetic and using CT Guidance technology. It was not a pretty procedure. He has been on a “cocktail” of strong antibiotics since then and still has a drip and drain in him today!
What is Diverticulitis? It is a common disease that affects the digestive system. It occurs when small pouches called diverticula develop in the lining of the lower part of the large intestine (colon). When these pockets become infected and inflamed the condition is known as diverticulitis. There are three different categories to describe diverticula:
- Diverticulosis – When diverticula form but don’t cause any symptoms.
- Diverticular disease – When diverticula leads to symptoms.
- Diverticulitis – When the diverticula become infected and inflamed leading to illness. Symptoms range from mild to severe and may require hospital admittance.
Symptoms of diverticulitis depend on the level of the infection and if there are any complications. Symptoms include:
- Sharp pain in the lower left side of the abdomen (although not always)
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in stools
Symptoms will settle once the inflammation is controlled.
Complications of diverticulitis are rare but include:
- Bleeding from the bowel
- An abscess in the abdomen
- A blockage of the colon
- A fistula forming between other organs such as the bladder
- Perforation on the wall of the bowel leading to infection
- Haemorrhage caused by diverticula
- Peritonitis – when the abdominal lining becomes infected.
Who does Diverticulitis affect? It is a common condition and incidence increases with age especially after age 40, and people with low-fibre diets and who consume highly refined foods are at a most risk. Vegetarians are less likely to develop the disease as are people from parts of the world where fibre intake is high. When you have diverticula, the condition is known as diverticulosis. You may never even know you have these pouches because they seldom cause any problems, such as diverticulitis. It affects more people from Western Cultures as our diets tend to be quite low in Fibre.
How do you prevent Diverticulitis? By ensuring you have 30 grams of fibre a day is recommended to prevent constipation. Adequate water and regular exercise are also recommended.
How do you treat Diverticulitis? Treatment revolves around clearing the infection, pain relief and preventing complications. Mild attacks can be treated with low-fibre diets, water, rest and antibiotics. Severe attacks need urgent medical attention and sometimes surgery. Options include:
- Intravenous fluids
- Surgery – if weakened sections of the bowel burst or if the infection fails to clear the diseased segment is removed
- Colostomy – if there’s a high degree of infection a colostomy bag may be fitted
- Long-term use of antibiotics to prevent another attack
Is it likely to recurr? Moving forward from treatment requires dietary and lifestyle changes.
- Eat more fibre. High-fibre foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, soften waste material and help it pass more quickly through your colon. This reduces pressure inside your digestive tract. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. An apple or 1/2 cup (118 milliliters) of spinach each contains more than 3 grams of fiber, and 1/2 cup of kidney beans contains about 8 grams. Try to substitute fruits, vegetables and grain products for foods high in fat. Be sure to add fiber gradually to avoid bloating, abdominal discomfort and gas. If it’s difficult for you to consume 20 or more grams of fiber every day, consider using a fiber supplement, such as psyllium (Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel). Avoiding seeds or nuts won’t prevent recurrent attacks of diverticulitis.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Fiber works by absorbing water and increasing the soft, bulky waste in your colon. But if you don’t drink enough liquid to replace what’s absorbed, fiber can be constipating.
- Respond to bowel urges. When you need to use the toilet, don’t delay. Delaying bowel movements leads to harder stools that require more force to pass and increased pressure within your colon.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes normal bowel function and reduces pressure inside your colon. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days.
Alcohol and Diverticulitis – Alcohol has an adverse effect on the working of the GI tract even in a healthy individual; and in case of a patient of diverticulitis alcohol can aggravate and worsen the symptoms appreciably. Alcohol will trigger abdominal pain and discomfort, may induce vomiting, alter bowel working and also could cause bleeding. This may occur in spite of having medication and following a good diet; thus, alcohol is best avoided. Also, consuming alcohol leads to increased frequency of flare ups. Incidences and occurrences of diverticulitis can be easily avoided if you steer clear of alcohol.
Ideally it should be avoided if you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis. Alcohol will worsen the symptoms and also lead to frequent flare ups. Make sure you drink moderately to avoid further complications. Moderate consumption of alcohol means – no more than 2 standard beverages per day; nevertheless, you must discuss this with your physician.
We hope Graham (husband) will be well enough to return home in the next 2-3 days, but only time will tell…