How to Manage Diverticulitis

By Lisa Cantkier

How to Manage Diverticulitis

Your treatment options for diverticulitis depend on the severity of your symptoms. Some patients require hospitalization; however, most of the time diverticulitis actually can be treated at home. Always seek the advice of your physician first to find out what treatment options are best for you.

“I had two hospital admissions within one week of each other for diverticulitis, with severe pain on the left side of my abdomen and bloating,” said Jennifer, a diverticulitis patient. “I generally felt pretty sick. Antibiotics have helped me. I also found probiotic drinks and supplements to be helpful for me with this condition. I went on a high-fiber diet, which can be helpful but can also cause constipation.”

Your doctor may treat you with antibiotics. To relieve pain, he or she may recommend bed rest and use of a heating pad to soothe your stomach. In addition, your doctor may suggest pain medication (of course, ask your doctor which specific pain medication you should use).

With respect to diet, your doctor may suggest consuming a fluid diet for one to two days and then slowly begin drinking thicker liquids before resuming solid foods.

Once you are better, your doctor will recommend you add more fiber to your diet. Eating a high-fiber diet is preventative, as it can help you prevent future attacks. If you have bloating or gas, you may need to reduce your fiber intake for a few days. According to Gil Kaplan, M.D., a gastroenterologist, epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Calgary, “Eating a high-fiber diet that improves the consistency and frequency of your bowel movements may reduce the development and subsequent occurrence of diverticulitis.”

You should be aware that once diverticula (pouches) have formed in your colon, they will stay there for life and it is possible for diverticulitis to return. That makes understanding this condition even more important.

“I have had diverticulitis off and on for about 24 years. I am now 60,” said Penny, another patient. “Probiotics have really helped me and I prefer tablet form over liquid. Peppermint oil capsules also have been helpful for me—I take them when I have pain. However, you have to do what works for you. I also have found warm baths and electric heating pads help ease the pain and discomfort.”

Several treatments—both medical and natural—are available to treat and manage diverticulitis. Treatment can include medication, diet and nutrition. Sometimes surgery is needed; however, it is not common.

The following treatments can help you manage and live well with diverticulitis. Always follow the advice of your health-care provider before trying any new treatment.

Medication: Patients who experience mild episodes of diverticulitis usually respond to antibiotics. Usually mild episodes of diverticulitis do not recur. Pain medication will be recommended by your doctor if necessary. The choice in pain medication will depend on the severity of your pain.

Surgery: You will be pleased to know surgery usually is not necessary for diverticulitis; however, sometimes it is needed for patients who experience repeated episodes, severe attacks or severe or frequent complications. According to the results of a 2013 U.S. Sigmoid diverticulitis study, “Surgery is usually not necessary but is sometimes performed in patients with severe or frequent complications. Often the bowel can be joined together immediately. If there is an infection, a temporary connection between the bowel and the skin (colostomy) is formed to avoid connecting infected bowel. This surgery can be reversed at a later operation when the bowel is reconnected. The long-term outlook is good.”

Natural Remedies: A lack of exercise may increase the risk of developing diverticulitis, so consider regular exercise. Obesity is another risk factor, so discuss weight loss with your doctor if necessary. Stress also has been thought to play a role in diverticulitis; however, there isn’t any research to support this hypothesis. Stephen Somerton, M.D., gastroenterologist and member of the board of directors of the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, said, “There is no hard evidence that stress plays a role in diverticulitis.”

Diet and Nutrition: If you have diverticulitis, it is important to maintain a healthy diet that includes the right amount of fiber, fluid intake and probiotics as recommended by your health-care provider.

The dietary information below has been shown to be helpful in treating diverticulitis.

  • Fiber: Doctors recommend you increase the amount of fiber in your diet, as well as adequate fluid intake. This is a common recommendation for many digestive disorders. Although an increase in fiber and fluid intake will not cause the diverticula to become smaller or disappear while you are ill, a high-fiber diet may reduce the formation of additional diverticula and it can reduce your chances of a recurrence in the future. Although avoidance of foods such as popcorn or foods with small seeds such as berries or tomatoes was commonly recommended by physicians in the past, currently there is no scientific research or clinical evidence to support it, so you can continue to keep those types of foods in your diet. Drink plenty of water, because fiber can be constipating without it. “The most common myth about the condition is that seeds get caught in the pouches and cause the problem,” said Somerton. “In fact, high-fiber foods help the condition, so low roughage/bland diets are not recommended.”​
  •    The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD): The premise of this diet is that many digestive disorders are the consequence of an overgrowth and imbalance of intestinal microbial flora, which consists of bacteria that help keep your intestinal flora and immune system healthy. The SCD diet consists of clean eating, strict avoidance of processed and refined foods and the elimination of foods that disrupt the balance of intestinal flora, such as those containing two-sugar disaccharide carbohydrates (such as sucrose, or table sugar) and “many-sugar” polysaccharides (such as starch). Foods containing single sugars (glucose) such as fruit, honey and properly fermented yogurt are allowed. The result is an immune system and gastroenterological tract that can function properly.
  • Probiotics and Yogurt: According to the Mayo Clinic, some experts suspect people who develop diverticulitis may not have enough good bacteria in their colon. Probiotics are foods (such as yogurt) or supplements that contain beneficial bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to help repopulate healthy intestinal flora of the gastrointestinal tract. Although it has not been scientifically proven, probiotics are sometimes recommended by doctors to help prevent diverticulitis. In addition, some health professionals recommend the consumption of fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kefir for patients who have digestive disorders.

Last Reviewed October 19, 2015

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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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