You'll know when you have this painful digestive condition. But how does it occur and how can you get on top of the symptoms?
If you've been diagnosed with diverticulitis, you'll likely be in a lot of pain. But you might not understand how the condition is caused, or the different levels of severity. Your large intestine has a soft, flexible lining which is surrounded by a tougher outer tube of muscle. If the muscle becomes weak, the inner lining can push through it to form a pouch - known as diverticula. And this is where the language gets tricky. Diverticulosis is a condition where diverticula are present without symptoms. Diverticular disease is used when you have diverticula and symptoms. Diverticulitis occurs when one diverticula become inflamed. Typically, your lower abdomen will really hurt, particularly on the left side. You may have bloating, changes in bowel movements and you may even need to go to hospital because of the pain.
Diverticula can form when you have chronic constipation, as stools struggle to pass through the intestine. This can be from a lack of fibre in your diet, but is also more common as we age. If you are experiencing diverticulitis symptoms, talk to your GP or specialist straight away. I see many clients with diverticular disease in my clinic, both women and men, who are recovering from diverticulitis or don't want their condition to progress. Diet can help. As I explain to Women's Health magazine:
1. Aim for 30g of fibre a day. Fibre (especially soluble fibre, found in oats, root veg and fruit) can help soften stools and put less pressure on the bowel walls.
2. Make sure you drink plenty of water to avoid constipation and help things along.
3. Probiotics may help reduce inflammation associated with diverticulitis, so try a daily supplement (minimum 10b live bacteria) and snack on natural live yoghurt sprinkled with ground flaxseed – which is also high in soluble fibre.
4. Studies have also shown that people with low vitamin D levels have a higher risk of diverticular disease complication, so up your oily fish intake to twice a week. Salmon, sardines and mackerel are all tasty choices.