Tenderness in your belly, nausea, vomiting – your first thought given these symptoms might be appendicitis, but this could also be a sign of diverticulitis, which is becoming increasingly common.
A Painful Condition
Diverticulitis is what we call it when diverticula, or pockets, form in the wall of the digestive system – most often in the lower part of the large intestine – and protrude through the wall of the colon. These pouches can become infected and inflamed, known as diverticulitis. And it’s no joke. Diverticulitis can be a painful inconvenience, and can become dangerous if left unchecked. Symptoms include:
- Pain, often in the lower left side of your belly
- Nausea and vomiting
- Tenderness in your abdomen
- Constipation or diarrhea
If you have these symptoms, it’s a good idea to go to your doctor and get yourself checked out. In most cases, small changes to your diet and lifestyle along with rest can help, but if it goes for too long, you might need surgery.
Leaving this condition untreated can lead to a fistula (abnormal connection between sections of the bowel and other organs), an abscess, or colon perforation, which happens when one of the pouches ruptures and spills intestinal contents into your abdominal cavity. This is an emergency condition that will need immediate attention as it can require surgery to repair.
Occurring More Often
While diverticulitis has always existed, chances are that if you’ve heard about it, it’s been recent. There’s a good reason for this. Research has shown that the number of cases of diverticulitis have significantly increased in the last few years. Unfortunately, the exact cause of diverticulitis is unknown, but it’s believed that obesity and a low-fiber diet might contribute to diverticulitis. Alarmingly, diverticulitis has become much more common in the U.S. compared to other countries for reasons we cannot fully explain.
How to Lower Your Risk
We can’t say with absolute certainty how to avoid it, but there are things you can do that may lower your risk. First, stay at a healthy weight and try to maintain a high-fiber diet. Other research has found that people who smoke are more likely to have diverticulitis than people who don’t. If you smoke, quitting now could possibly help you avoid this diagnosis (and a whole host of others as well). Exercising regularly also may lower your risk of diverticulitis, so talk to your doctor about what exercise regimen might be best for you and stick to it.
Dr. Hassan Dakik is a board-certified Gastroenterology specialist who welcomes new patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. His clinical interests include inflammatory bowel disease, gastroesophageal reflux, gastrointestinal bleeding, celiac disease, and various disorders of the liver and biliary tract.