Diagnosed With Diverticulosis During a Routine Colonoscopy
Discovering a Problem You Didn't Know You Had
Not knowing you have a health problem is puzzling enough, but when you find that your symptoms are atypical for the condition, it becomes even more puzzling. Here are a couple examples of health problems revealed to me that were previously not understood.
I once went to an ophthalmologist for a routine eye exam. "Oh, you have keratitis sicca," he announced. This is the medical term for chronic dry eye. Over the years, I had instances of itchy, scratchy eyes. If it was bad enough, I would buy an over-the-counter eye wash or liquid tears for single use. I only sought treatment when it got really bad. Living in Arizona, I assumed everyone had itchy/scratchy eyes (it's a dry and dusty place). But no; apparently, not everyone has this problem. Why I never treated the condition unless it was wildly out of hand I cannot say. Maybe something "everyone" experienced need not be treated?
Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us.— Boris Pasternak
In another instance, during a routine exam by my primary care physician, I was informed that I had eczema. She saw very small—almost insignificant—raised patches on my face, which I had ignored for years. Those patches disappeared after her prescription was filled. Since then, I had not visited her but for a routine physical.
On a fourth colonoscopy (because I had had some discoloration in the colon that could not be explained years before), a diagnosis of diverticulosis was made. Oftentimes, a diagnosis of diverticulosis is made during a routine colonoscopy. In this article, I'll discuss the symptoms and causes of diverticulosis.
A Primer on Diverticular Disease
So What Is It?
Diverticulosis is a condition in which tiny little holes in the intestinal wall enlarge, forming sacs, or diverticula, that can range from the size of a pea to the size of a penny. 10% of the American public over 40 have diverticulosis—some with extreme symptoms. 50–60% of Americans over 60 deal with it.
When the sacs push through the softer outer layer of the intestines, it is referred to as a herniated diverticulum. These sacks can retain fecal material, leading to inflammation and infection. When infected, the condition is known as diverticulitis.
In my own case, I discovered that I had diverticulosis because the colonoscopy showed many red splotches at mid-colon. This was an indication of some inflammation, but I hadn't had any symptoms, which is common. So here was another case where the patient found an abnormality they weren't aware of.
An Inside Look at DiverticulosisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Diverticulosis or Diverticulitis?
Diverticulosis describes the development of small sacs or pouches (diverticula) in the intestinal wall. Inflammation of the diverticula is known as diverticulitis.
Symptoms of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
An individual suffering from diverticulosis might experience:
- "mild" bloating
In the case of diverticulitis, the patient may have any of these symptoms:
- Excess gas and bloating
- Constipation (common) and diarrhea (less common), sometimes alternating
- Lower abdominal cramps and tenderness (usually the lower left side)
- Nausea, possibly with vomiting
- Fever, with or without chills
What May Have Caused It?
At 69 years old, I have had my share of aches and pains. The worst issue I've dealt with is osteoarthritis in the spine, which shows up dramatically on an X-ray. I was advised to take ibuprofen when I had significant bouts of pain. During these episodes, I took ibuprofen 800 mg three times a day. Since my average pain was increasing, I thought that after my extreme bout, I would start taking 400 mg at night (once a day) to control it. It turns out that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can cause inflammation of the diverticuli—that may be what did it for me.
Doctors don't know for certain what causes diverticulosis. A strongly held belief is that constipation can lead to the ailment due to straining. It has also been shown that there is a genetic link in those who have the problem.
Other things that could contribute to diverticular disease include:
- Lack of exercise
- Low concentration of healthy gut bacteria
- An imbalance in gut microbes, with more bad gut bacteria that cause disease
- A diet rich in fatty substances
- An injury of the small blood vessels close to the diverticula
- Accumulation of waste in the diverticula
Dietary Considerations With Diverticulosis
One of the past medical thoughts about diet and diverticulosis was not to eat nuts or seeds (caraway, sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower). The latest research has shown that nuts, corn, and seeds have no correlation with diverticular disease. Current dietary recommendations impose little to no limitations. In fact, when I left the VA hospital where I had my colonoscopy, they recommended that I eat popcorn, which I have done religiously since. I can say that that has helped me be more regular, and I am hoping this will decrease the inflammation I didn't know I had.
Another common recommendation is to eat fiber from a variety of sources. Get gum fiber from fruits and vegetables, and bran fiber from grains and seeds. The key is to keep the consistency of the intestinal contents correct. Fiber supplements and probiotics may be advised, along with medications that are available. Finally, drinking a healthy amount of fluids and getting regular exercise are also recommended methods for controlling diverticulosis.
What's most important is to talk to your doctor about what's best for specific situation.
What to Do If the Condition Worsens
You should further seek your doctor's advice if your symptoms become more than just mild. If you see blood in the toilet, if the pain or bloating becomes more uncomfortable, or if you suspect you have a blockage, contact your doctor immediately.
Some Final Thoughts
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it might be wise to have a conversation with your doctor. It seems that the most important thing to do if you have diverticulosis is to reduce the chances of worsening the condition. If my experience is of any help, ask your healthcare professional if they see a benefit to eating a bag of microwave popcorn every day. This may not be good for folks that have a weight problem or diabetes, but that's why a conversation is the first step. If popcorn is acceptable, it may stave off the worsening effects of untreated diverticulosis. And as far as I am concerned, the price is right, and it is the best medicine I have ever taken!
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2017, June 6). Diverticular Disease. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. (n.d.). Diverticular Disease. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
Arthur Schoenstadt, MD. (2017, January 4). Diverticulosis. eMEDTV Health. Retrieved January 4, 2019.
John Messmer, M.D. (2007, June 28). Dealing with Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis. Retrieved January 6, 2019.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, August, 14). Diverticulitis. Retrieved January 5, 2019.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. (2016, May). Definition & Facts for Diverticular Disease. Retrieved January 2, 2019.
WebMD. (2017, January 16). What is Diverticulosis? Retrieved January 5, 2019.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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© 2019 John R Wilsdon