By ZACHARY BOUCHER, MD
Sometimes, you experience stomach discomfort for seemingly no reason. It could actually be a fairly common condition called diverticulitis.
Your colon is the last part of your intestines. Its primary job is to re-absorb water and allow stool to form so we only have 1-2 bowel movements per day.
Diverticulum are small outpouchings in our colon wall that occur over time due to the pressure of holding stool. Sometimes, a diverticulum can become inflamed or “burst,” and we call this diverticulitis.
Not all diverticulitis is created equal. Sometimes the inflammation is very mild and you just have a small amount of abdominal cramping and stay home and tough it out. Sometimes, they “burst” and lead to a large hole in your colon with bleeding and you need emergency surgery. There are a lot of misconceptions about diverticulitis passed down over the years. Let’s explore some of the most egregious and tell you what you need to know.
Myth#1: If I eat seeds or popcorn, my diverticulitis will flare up!
Myth Busted! This is probably the most common misconception about diverticulitis and the most common question patients ask me about. Many years ago, a rumor was propagated in the medical community that seeds or popcorn kernels would get stuck in your diverticulum and cause them to burst. This has never been proven and should NOT stop you from eating things you enjoy.
Myth#2: Speaking of diet … I can change my diet so my diverticulitis will get better or go away.
Myth Busted! Well, sort of. Diverticulitis is mostly a disease seen in industrialized countries, and is only increasing as the world becomes more developed. It stems from a lack of fiber and an increase in processed simple carbohydrates in our diet. It is also worse in people who suffer from chronic constipation. So shouldn’t adding more fiber to your diet help things? Sure, it should. However, it is hard to reverse the damage done. Those diverticulum aren’t going to magically go away. So yes, add more fiber to your diet and keep simple carbs to a minimum, but the best you can hope to do is keep things from getting worse. And regarding constipation, the best thing you can do to prevent this terrible problem is STAY WELL HYDRATED.
Myth #3: I will definitely need surgery to have my colon removed if I have diverticulitis.
Myth Busted! As a surgeon, I find diverticulitis fascinating, but I hope you never need me. The majority of patients with diverticulitis will never see a surgeon. If you have repeated attacks of diverticulitis, you may benefit from having that diseased part of your colon removed. It is worth seeing a medical professional to talk about if surgery is the right decision for you. If you have a large hole in your colon from diverticulitis, you may need emergency surgery. You will feel very sick if that is the case, and you need to come to the Emergency Department so we can take care of you.
Thanks for reading. Please come see me if you have more questions about diverticulitis or other similar conditions that could require general surgery.
About the Author
Zachary Boucher, MD, is a General Surgeon with Lakeland Regional Health. To make an appointment with Dr. Boucher, please call 863.284.5000. To learn more about Dr. Boucher and his patient care philosophy, read his online biography.