What causes diverticulitis? If you have ever suffered from the gastrointestinal disorder, you’ve probably asked yourself or doctor that. After all, we all want to know why we are in pain.

Unfortunately, the truth is, there is an ongoing debate within the medical community surrounding that very question.Your doctor may have blamed it on diet, in years past. However, recent studies turned that belief on its head. The good news is, that even if they have not figured out exactly why it occurs, they do know how to treat it. More importantly, they have some ideas about how to prevent it.

What is Diverticulitis?

what causes diverticulitis

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To understand how to the doctors will help you if you suffer from diverticulitis, you have to first understand exactly what it is. Diverticulitis occurs when pouches called diverticula form in your digestive tract, ordinarily in the colon. These pouches happen when spots weaken in the intestinal wall which causes them to balloon outward.

Sometimes these diverticula tear, become inflamed and bacteria invades them. If your colon develops that infection, it is called diverticulitis.

What Causes Diverticulitis?

Doctors are not exactly sure what causes diverticulitis, at least not what causes some people’s intestinal walls to weaken. Some believe it is abnormally high pressure in the colon due to muscle spasms. Others believe that it is genetic.

Historically, low-fiber diets and constipation were believed to have contributed to what causes diverticulitis to flare-up. Doctors told people to eat a high-fiber diet to prevent it. After people developed a flare-up the doctor would then instruct patients to switch to a low-fiber diet or clear liquid diet in order to make it easier on a patient’s colon.

However, studies in recent years seem to dispute that. According to a 2013 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, doctors said,”In our cross-sectional, colonoscopy-based study, neither constipation nor a low-fiber diet was associated with an increased risk of diverticulosis.”

Although doctors do not yet agree on what causes diverticulitis infections, they do know that stool blocks the opening of the pouches. That stool then leads to inflammation and infections. Sometimes, people have more than one infected diverticula. Also, these infections can be a short-term infection or they can become a chronic infection. In those cases, it usually clears up with antibiotics and rest, just like any other infection. When it becomes a chronic problem, though, it is very serious and doctors may consider surgery.

Diverticulitis symptoms: what to look for

Most people never show any symptoms of diverticulitis. You probably only know you have it because your doctor found it while running other tests. Others, however, have extreme pain. The most common symptom is a pain in left side of the abdomen. As the diverticulum becomes inflamed, left side pain is present.

This lower left abdominal pain can range from mild to severe. Sometimes, pain in lower left abdomen can be confused with heart disease. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include bloating, fever, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea. The symptoms can be similar to irritable bowel syndrome and your doctor may run tests to rule that out.

In fact, in order to diagnose diverticulitis, your doctor may send you for a colonoscopy, x-ray, or CT scan.

Watch this short video for more:

Risk factors for diverticulitis

Although doctors are not sure what causes diverticulitis, they have identified some risk factors. First of all, genetics could play a role. So, if you know that someone in your immediate family is prone to it, be sure to mention that to your physician if you begin experiencing symptoms. People over 60 also experience it more.

Obesity is also considered a risk factor for the disease. According to the NIH, body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio increase the risk of the disease and bleeding associated with it. They do not yet understand why that is though. Further, research has found that if you are not getting at least thirty minutes of exercise each day then you are at a greater risk.

In addition, a vitamin D deficiency may be what causes diverticulitis. A 2013 study published by the NIH concluded,”Among patients with diverticulosis, higher prediagnostic levels of 25(OH)D are associated significantly with a lower risk of diverticulitis. These data indicate that vitamin D deficiency could be involved in the pathogenesis of diverticulitis.”

Basically, everything your doctor has been warning you about for could be what causes diverticulitis. It’s incredibly important that you take proper care of your digestive system and overall health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. You can do this by adding more vegetables, fruit, and water to your diet. As well as making sure that you are getting the recommended amount of water each day. The easiest way to do that is by taking your body weight, dividing it in half and that number is the minimum ounces of water you should drink throughout the day.

Diverticulitis surgery: the last option to cure it

diverticulitis sometimes requires surgery image surgical team over patient under lights

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If you are unable to prevent diverticulitis, there are ways to treat it. One of those ways, as I mentioned above, is surgery. First, it’s important to note that in 75 percent of cases, the problem is mild and goes away without issue. Some antibiotics and bed rest usually take care of it. You may belong to the 25 percent of patients with severe diverticulitis. If you are, you may be admitted to the hospital. At the hospital, you will get IV antibiotics and maybe surgery.

You may need surgery for a few reasons:

A fistula develops and surgeons may need to remove the damaged part of a colon.

Your colon is obstructed by inflammation or scarring and stool can’t pass through. A surgeon will remove the obstructed part of your colon.

Perforation occurs when diverticulitis causes tiny perforations in the pouches that have formed. They can then rupture and cause waste to spill into your abdominal cavity. If this happens it can be life-threatening and emergency surgery will be performed. This surgery, a colectomy, may result in a temporary or permanent colostomy bag.

An abscess may also form in the wall of the colon. An abscess is an infected pocket filled with pus. Surgeons may have to drain the abscess by sticking a tube in it to all it to empty.

As with any surgery, there are risks. Fortunately, tough, diverticulitis doesn’t often result in the need for surgery. If it does, speak to your doctor and ask them every question you have. Physicians are like teachers, they do not believe any question is a stupid question, so ask them.

Don’t Worry, You’ll Be Okay

Chances are, you are going to be perfectly fine. Even though doctors don’t know exactly what causes diverticulitis, they do have some idea of the risk factors. Most importantly, they know how to treat it. So, if you suffer from it periodically or you were just diagnosed with it, you should be concerned but not freaking out.

Remember, the vast majority of people who have it never suffer any pain or symptoms. Of the people who are diagnosed, 75 percent are good as new relatively soon. The odds are in your favor. Even if you are among the minority that needs to have surgery, your surgeon is very skilled and perfectly capable of handling it. At the end of the day though, the most important thing you can do to mitigate the problem is by taking care of your health. Eat right, exercise and live an overall healthy lifestyle. That is the best preventive measure we can all take.

 

Featured image: CC0, by Matthias Zomer, via Pexels

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