Some people develop pouches in their intestines called diverticula. When these pouches get infected or inflamed, you can develop a painful condition called diverticulitis. This painful condition can be minor, or it can lead to a serious infection or rupture your bowel.
Diverticula typically develop after age 40 and don’t always cause problems. If they do get infected or inflamed, some symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- Pain, which may be constant
- Fever and chills
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
- Nausea and vomiting
For about one-quarter of people with diverticulitis, the condition leads to complications that require immediate medical attention. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s important to schedule an exam with a specialist right away.
Keep in mind that diverticulitis can be acute and chronic. In other words, you can have attacks that come and go (acute) or get somewhat better but never completely resolve (chronic).
As an expert in digestive disorders, board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, at Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, diagnoses and treats abdominal pain — including diverticulitis. Fortunately, most cases of diverticulitis can be managed with lifestyle changes you can implement yourself.
Take a moment to learn about four ways you can manage your diverticulitis and avoid a flare-up in the future.
1. Follow a liquid diet during flare-ups
When you’re in the middle of a diverticulitis attack, one of the best things you can do is avoid eating solid foods, which can get trapped in the diverticula and make your symptoms worse. Instead, follow a clear liquid diet for a few days to help restore your digestive tract.
Some examples of things you can drink on a clear liquid diet include:
- Vegetable broth
- Popsicles (without pulp or pieces of fruit)
- Apple juice and other pulp-free juices
- Iced or hot tea (without adding creamer or milk)
- Iced or hot coffee (without adding creamer or milk)
Dr. Rivas advises you how long to stay on this liquid diet. Once your attack clears, he may recommend you follow up with a low-fiber diet to help your digestive system get back on track.
2. Eat a high-fiber diet
Research tells us that people with diverticula can avoid developing the infection and inflammation of diverticulitis by eating a diet high in fiber. A high-fiber diet keeps your stools soft, helps you avoid straining during bowel movements, and prevents inflammation.
Dietary fiber is only found in plant foods, and it’s essential for digestive health as well as your overall health. Some examples of high-fiber foods to eat regularly include:
- All vegetables
- All fruits
- Beans and legumes (e.g., chickpeas, lentils, black beans)
- Whole grains and rice (e.g., whole wheat bread, oatmeal, brown rice)
One of the easiest ways to ensure you’re eating enough fiber is to center your meals around plant-based foods. Remember, only plant-based foods have fiber, so to avoid diverticulitis, load up on these foods and eat less animal-based products.
Keep in mind that fiber absorbs water, so be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water every day for the best digestive health.
3. Exercise regularly
In addition to watching what you put in your mouth, it’s important to exercise regularly if you want to avoid diverticulitis. Overweight and obese people have an increased risk of developing the condition, as do people who smoke, and sedentary people.
Regular exercise helps you keep your weight under control, and physical activity works to keep your bowels moving. You don’t need to spend hours a day exercising to reap the benefits. Start simply with a daily walk around the block or take a gentle yoga class, then work up to breaking a sweat for at least 90 minutes each week.
You can also increase your physical activity by looking for ways to sneak it into your daily activities. For example, try walking to nearby stores instead of driving. Or park farther from the entrance to get in extra steps.
4. Get expert help
If you have diverticulitis, it’s important you regularly see a gastroenterologist. During a flare-up, you may need antibiotics or additional testing to avoid complications that could require surgery. Your Rivas Digestive Center gastrointestinal specialist can help you avoid flare-ups and avert potential problems by helping you manage your diverticulitis.
Learn more about how you can manage diverticulitis by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone at the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida.