8 Silent Signs You Might Have Diverticulitis
It’s not just stomach pain—these other symptoms and risk factors for diverticulitis could provide a clue too.
What is diverticulitis, exactly?
Diverticulitis is a condition that affects the digestive system and can cause severe pain in the lower abdomen. It’s usually treatable by antibiotics or slight changes in diet, but does require medical attention from a professional. Before you head to the doctor, here are silent symptoms of diverticulitis that can help you identify whether you have the condition. Here are 7 common stomach pains and what they mean.
What’s the difference between diverticulitis and diverticulosis?
Allow us a brief anatomy lesson: Diverticula, which are at the root of both conditions, are pouch-like structures about the size of a marble that form in the wall of the large intestine. The presence of diverticula in the large intestine is called diverticulosis, and, though it has a medical name, the simple act of the diverticula forming in the large intestine doesn’t cause a problem for most people. In fact, about half of all people over age 60 have diverticulosis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The diverticula are usually identified in an X-ray, CT scan or colonoscopy, according to David Greenwald, MD, director of clinical gastroenterology and endoscopy at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. But sometimes the diverticula can become infected, which is where diverticulitis comes in. “Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticula become inflamed or infected,” Greenwald says. ““They get inflamed for an unknown reason. We aren’t entirely sure what causes it.”
Diverticulitis symptom: Pain in the lower left abdomen
The most common symptom of diverticulitis is a sharp pain in the lower left abdomen. Brian Putka, MD, a Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist, says 80 percent of people feel the sharp pain on the left side of their abdomen in the area below the belly button.
Diverticulitis symptom: Constipation
Many people with diverticulitis notice a change in bowel patterns when they have diverticulitis, but Dr. Putka says constipation occurs more frequently than diarrhea. These are other surprising reasons you could be constipated.
Diverticulitis symptom: Fever and chills
If the diverticula become infected with bacteria, you might contract a fever as your body tries to fight off the infection.
Diverticulitis symptom: Change in appetite
The pain diverticulitis causes in the stomach might make some people lose their appetites. But, no matter how you’re feeling, Dr. Greenwald says to disregard advice that eating certain hard-to-digest foods is bad for you if you have diverticulitis. “If you google diverticulitis, the first thing you’ll find is not to eat seeds or nuts because they’ll get stuck in the diverticula,” he says. “There’s no medical basis to that or scientific study to prove it.”
Diverticulitis risk factor: Low-fiber diet
Diets that are high in fat and low in fiber can make people more at risk for diverticulitis, Dr. Greenwald says. Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet can help prevent painful flare-ups of diverticulitis, according to Harvard Medical School. The best sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, and grains, but your doctor might also recommend unprocessed bran or a fiber supplement. If you plan to increase your fiber intake, do it gradually and drink plenty of water to prevent constipation.
Diverticulitis risk factor: Lack of exercise
Keeping up with a regular exercise regimen can help decrease the risk of diverticulitis. “Regular exercise is very important in promoting good bowel health,” Dr. Greenwald says. These are clues that you need more physical activity in your life.
Diverticulitis risk factor: Not drinking enough fluids
Staying hydrated isn’t only important so your body can function at its highest level—it can also help decrease the risk of diverticulitis. “Drinking an adequate amount of fluids, combined with the necessary amount of fiber, will make the stool bulkier, and there’s less chance of areas in the intestines bulging out,” Greenwald says. Try these tips to drink more water every day.
Diverticulitis risk factor: Taking anti-inflammatory drugs
Certain medications might increase your risk of getting diverticulitis, including steroids, opiates, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Here’s what else doctors might not tell you about pain meds.