Eating lots of waffles, pancakes, white bread, cold cereals, crackers and Cream of Wheat not only contributes to weight gain, it also contributes to the development of diverticulosis, which can cause painful and often dangerous diverticulitis.
Consuming this low-fiber diet means your colon must work harder to move food, causing pouches to develop along its walls. These pouches are very small, 5 to 10 mm, about the size of an aspirin to a pea, but can be larger. These pouches are called diverticula.
About 80% of the people who develop diverticula never experience diverticulitis - and doctors aren’t sure why. In these cases, diverticula is often only discovered through a colonoscopy screening or barium enema X-ray, and these people will never have adverse symptoms.
For the other 20%, it’s a completely different story. Bacteria begin to grow in the pouches and the pouches become inflamed or infected. You may feel bloated, swollen or gassy, with either diarrhea or constipation, sometimes nausea or vomiting. You may experience tenderness, cramps or pain in your abdomen that may become worse when you move. There may be fever, chills and loss of appetite.
While a cramped gassy feeling can be normal after eating certain foods, if these symptoms persist after a bowel movement, call your doctor. If your situation appears straightforward, your physician will prescribe antibiotics and a liquid diet to heal the infection and take pressure from your colon. Complications and escalating pain levels may require a hospital stay and IV antibiotics and nutrition, with nothing by mouth to allow the bowel to completely rest.
Nearly half of patients who experience diverticulitis will never have a second attack.
When you experience repeated diverticulitis attacks, or if you’ve developed a fistula, an opening between your colon and your bladder, uterus or vagina, you will need surgery to remove the diseased portion of your colon.
If you have a sudden, unbearable, intense pain while experiencing symptoms, get to an emergency room or call an ambulance immediately. You may have suffered a rupture of an inflamed diverticula and require immediate surgery to avoid life-threatening peritonitis.
Risk factors include:
- eating a low-fiber diet
- a family history of diverticulosis or diverticulitis
- taking aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil)
Eating nuts, popcorn or seeds has not been shown to have any impact on the development of diverticulitis.
To prevent diverticula from forming:
- eat a high-fiber diet, including vegetables especially beans and peas, fruits like pears, berries and apples and whole grains like brown rice, bran and quinoa.
- restrict fat and red meat
- drink about a half gallon of water each day to keep stool soft
- exercise consistently