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Diverticular Disease: An Increasingly Common Ailment

A healthy digestive tract begins with healthy eating habits. Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer are some of the most commonly known diet-related health problems. There are, however, a myriad of other conditions caused or exacerbated by the lack of proper nutrients from the daily intake of a healthy/balanced diet, routine exercise, and adequate amounts of water.

Diverticular disease is a condition of the digestive tract. Diverticula are bulging pouches in the lining of the intestinal wall. The pouches are most often found in the lower part of the colon, large intestine. Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of these pouches in the digestive tract become inflamed or infected.

Diverticular disease can be acute or chronic. Some of the most common symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain on the left side that may be relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement.

If the diverticula, the pouches in the intestinal wall, become infected then you may also experience fever, vomiting, or chills.

“We know that a poor low-fiber diet does contribute to the development of diverticular disease, as the lack of fiber leads to an increase in intraluminal pressure in the bowel,” Professor Tom Oresland of Akershus University Hospital in Norway said in a recent Society of Coloprotology interview. “This promotes herniation and the collagen in the bowel wall contributes to its development. There are also likely to be genetic and other factors, which mean some patients will develop the disease despite having a high-fiber diet.”

About half of all Americans over age 60 will get diverticular disease.

In addition, you are more at risk of getting the disease if you are male, if you are obese, if you do not get enough regular exercise, if you smoke; and if your diet is high in animal fat. The use of opioids, steroids, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Advil, Motrin IB or Aleve also reportedly contribute to its development.

Typically, you develop diverticulitis as you age, however diverticular disease is also affecting millennials. Preston Ross, a 27-year-old Texas law school student whose parents reside in D.C., discovered he had the disorder after being rushed to a hospital during final exam week last Christmas.

“I was in so much stomach pain. I had a really high fever and became delirious. A friend from school helped me get to the hospital and after loads of questions and tests, I was diagnosed with diverticular disease,” Ross told The Informer.

However, this was not Ross’ first emergency room visit for severe stomach pain. Several years earlier, as an undergrad, he had a similar experience.

“I was staying with family at the time. I had no idea what was causing the pain and so I took several over-the-counter medications, but nothing worked. My aunt realized I was really suffering and drove me to the hospital.” On this first visit the doctors misdiagnosed Ross’ condition as kidney stones, hard mineral deposits inside the kidneys.

Experts say misdiagnosis in young people is unfortunately common because diverticular disease is normally seen in older adults.

Diverticular disease can be identified by your physician through x-rays of the small intestine, the large intestine, and the rectum; a stool sample to test for abnormal bacteria; or a colonoscopy, via a tiny video camera, that looks at the entire length of the large intestine and the rectum.

Mild cases may be treated at home with antibiotics, if needed for infection, and a liquid diet for several days until the intestines heal. You can then gradually return to a solid diet.

In extreme cases, surgery may be needed. During a primary bowel resection, the surgeon removes the diseased segments of your intestine and then reconnects the healthy segments.

The Mayo Clinic offers the following as possible ways to prevent diverticulitis:

– Exercise regularly, at least 30 minutes on most days, to promote normal bowel function and reduce pressure inside your colon.

– Eat more fiber-rich foods such as fresh fruit (apples, peaches, and berries); vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, spinach, carrots, asparagus, and squash); and whole grains (breads, cereals) to soften waste material and help it pass more quickly through your colon.

– Drink plenty of fluids. Fiber works by absorbing water and increasing the soft bulky waste in your colon.

– Avoid smoking, which is associated with an increased risk in developing diverticulitis.

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