If you’re experiencing abdominal pain and need an expert diagnosis, you’ve come to the right place. Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified specialist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates, offers patient-centered care to folks throughout Cypress and Houston, Texas.
Abdominal pain is a common symptom that could indicate several different conditions. Here, Dr. Hussain takes a closer look at one of the possibilities — diverticulitis.
Diverticulosis vs. diverticulitis
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are two versions of the same intestinal condition that causes polyps, or diverticula, to form on the walls of your colon.
Diverticulosis is the early stage of the condition, and it typically doesn’t cause any symptoms, so you may not even know you have it.
Diverticulitis is the more advanced stage, and the symptoms definitely kick in at this point. You may feel:
- Abdominal cramps and pain
- Bloating and swelling
Of course, these symptoms may also point to several other gastrointestinal problems, so it’s best to undergo a thorough exam so Dr. Hussain can get to the root cause of your symptoms.
Who gets diverticulitis?
Anyone can get diverticulitis, but it’s most common in men over the age of 40.
Eating a low-fiber diet is one of the primary risk factors, and your chances of getting it go up if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, are overweight, eat a lot of red meat and fatty foods, smoke cigarettes, and regularly take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen and aspirin.
Although those factors increase your risk for diverticulitis, most researchers point to diet as the main culprit. A low-fiber diet leads to constipation, which puts excess pressure on your colon walls. That pressure, in turn, exposes the weak areas and forms diverticula pockets in the lining.
When bacteria from your stool settles into the diverticula, they become infected and inflamed, and you get diverticulitis. To know for sure, Dr. Hussain performs tests on your blood and stool, does a rectal exam, and performs an endoscopy to take a closer look inside your colon.
He may recommend a colonoscopy or a sigmoidoscopy, depending on which portion of your colon is affected.
How a diverticulitis diet can help
Your diet can either help or hinder you when you have diverticulitis, and timing is everything. Because a low-fiber diet can lead to diverticulitis, you may be tempted to switch to high fiber to reverse it, but there’s more to it than that.
The best things to eat and avoid eating depend on whether your diverticulitis is calm or flaring up.
What to eat when your diverticulitis is calm
Because constipation contributes to the development of diverticulitis and triggers flare-ups by applying pressure to the polyps, you want to do all you can to prevent it. Eating a high-fiber diet keeps your stool soft and helps it move through your gasterointestinal tract easily. To get enough fiber, try adding these foods to your diet:
- Fresh fruit
- Legumes (peas, lentils, nuts)
- Whole grains
- Fresh vegetables
How much fiber is enough? Most women should shoot for around 21-25 grams a day, and men should try to get 30-38 grams a day.
But fiber is only part of the diverticulitis diet. To get the most out of your meals, you need to make sure you drink plenty of water, which also helps keep your stool soft and mobile. Try to drink at least 64 ounces a day.
Regular exercise also keeps you regular, so work in a workout most days of the week.
In addition to adding high-fiber foods, you should also cut back on high-fat foods and red meat.
What to eat when you have a diverticulitis flare-up
When your diverticulitis rears up, and you’re dealing with the classic symptoms of abdominal pain, constipation, and bloating, you want to give your colon a rest, which means eating foods that reduce solid waste. A low-fiber diet can help get you through flare-ups, so switch to the following foods:
- White bread and pasta
- Soft proteins, like egg whites, eggs, tofu, and shredded chicken
- Canned fruits and applesauce (no skins)
- Dairy foods, like yogurt and cottage cheese
On a low-fiber diet, you’re looking to eat about 8-12 grams of fiber. If your symptoms are severe, Dr. Hussain may recommend a temporary liquid diet of broth, clear juices, and Jell-O, especially if you require surgery.
Depending on the severity of your condition, Dr. Hussain may prescribe antibiotics to reduce the infection and inflammation. If the diverticula have blocked passageways, perforated your colon, developed scar tissue, or ruptured a blood vessel, you may need surgery to correct the problem.
If you’re living with diverticulitis and want to learn more about your treatment options, schedule a consultation with Dr. Hussain by calling our friendly staff or booking online.