You can’t go a day without seeing a television commercial or social media post about acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), but you almost never hear about diverticulitis. And that’s odd considering it’s the third most prevalent gastrointestinal problem in the United States, and about 60% of American over 60 years old suffer from it.
Here’s a closer look at what diverticulitis is, what causes it, and how it’s treated from Dr. Ayub Hussein, our board-certified expert at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston, Texas.
Diverticulitis occurs when you develop small pouches, called diverticula, in your intestines. Typically, they’re harmless little growths that you never even notice, a condition called diverticulosis. But if they become inflamed or infected, the condition graduates to diverticulitis.
In mild cases, you may experience some abdominal cramping, particularly on the left side, that subsides after a bowel movement or passing gas. You may also notice bright red blood in your stool.
If your diverticulitis becomes more severe, you may have a fever as well.
While researchers are still trying to understand what makes diverticula appear, the most likely culprits are genetics and environmental factors.
We do, however, know what causes them to become inflamed and infected. When feces build up in your intestines and block the diverticula, they get irritated and inflamed. If they tear, bacteria from the waste enter the pouch and lead to infection.
Left untreated, diverticulitis can obstruct your bowels, which exacerbates and adds to your symptoms, which may include:
If you continue to ignore diverticulitis, you risk some serious complications, including abscesses, perforated bowel, bladder or kidney infections, and scarring.
To find out if your symptoms point to diverticulitis or some other gastrointestinal disorder, Dr. Hussein starts with a thorough physical exam and a detailed discussion about what you’ve been feeling.
Then, he runs urine, blood, and stool tests to detect evidence of infection. He may also order a CT scan that will reveal infected or inflamed diverticular if they’re present. Finally, a liver enzyme test may be necessary to make sure your liver isn’t involved.
If you have a mild case of diverticulitis, treatment may be as simple as changing your diet and taking a course of antibiotics.
If you have a moderate case, expect to switch to a clear-liquid diet for a few days, followed by a soft diet to give your digestive tract a rest. Dr. Hussein may drain large, infected diverticula with a needle.
In severe cases, diverticulitis may require surgical removal of the problem, called a bowel resection.
If you have tummy pain and are ready to find out what’s causing it, schedule an appointment to see Dr. Hussein. We have offices in Cypress and Houstons, Texas, and you can call our friendly staff or book online today.