What Causes Diverticulitis Pain?

B. Koch

Diverticulitis pain is caused by inflamed diverticula in the large intestine and is common in individuals over 40 years of age. Exercise and a diet high in fiber can help to prevent diverticulitis. Although typically easily remedied, severe cases may require surgery.

A diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.
A diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.

The problem occurs after diverticula, or small, bulging pouches, develop in the digestive tract, especially in the large intestine. The pouches themselves are harmless and commonly occur with age. They are thought to develop when weak areas of the colon succumb to pressure. When someone develops diverticula, he is said to have diverticulosis. On occasion, these pouches become inflamed or infected, resulting in diverticulitis pain.

To help prevent diverticulitis flare-ups, some physicians advocate a diet rich in vegetables and other fiber-rich foods.
To help prevent diverticulitis flare-ups, some physicians advocate a diet rich in vegetables and other fiber-rich foods.

There are a number of theories about why diverticulitis pain occurs. It is thought the diverticula become inflamed when they are affected by increased pressure and their walls break down or when fecal matter becomes trapped in the pouches, causing infection. Blockages of the diverticula may also result in decreased blood flow to these areas and, therefore, inflammation.

It was previously thought that undigested food or certain hard to digest foods, such as nuts or seeds, might trigger diverticulitis. These theories, though, have been challenged by current studies. In order to prevent diverticulitis pain, a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and fiber is necessary.

Symptoms of diverticulitis include pain that may be sudden or gradual that is typically localized in the lower left side of the abdomen. Other symptoms are fever, a change in bowel habits, nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea. Often, diverticulitis pain can be treated with rest, diet, and antibiotics, but in severe cases, surgery may be necessary.

A number of factors put one at high risk for diverticulitis pain. Individuals who eat too little fiber have a much higher risk of diverticulitis, though people over 40 are most likely to experience it. Studies show that one in 10 people in the United States, over the age of 40, have diverticulosis and that diverticulitis affects 10 to 25 percent of people with this condition.

Not only can diverticulitis result in inflammation and pain, in severe cases, it may have more serious consequences. Rectal bleeding may occur if small blood vessels in the diverticula weaken and burst. If an infection of the diverticula becomes severe enough, an abscess may form as may perforations in the diverticula. Scarring caused by an infection can result in blockages in the intestine, producing major health problems. In all these cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the problem.

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