Diverticulitis: Signs and Symptoms from my experience
DIVERTICULITIS: What is it and how do we get it?
I'm going to keep this module fairly brief and cover the "what is it and how do we get it" subject in a hub of all it's own. Still, I feel it's relevant to cover the basics of diverticulitis for any of my readers who might have come across this hub in their search for information for a friend or family member.
What is Diverticulitis?
The shortest and simplest answer is that Diverticulitis is inflammation in one or several areas of your Colon. For a little more detail, Diverticulitis is the name for little "pockets" that get formed in your intestinal walls (colon) that become inflamed and often trap partially digested food within them.
Complications to this can happen when those foods are sugary, acid, chemical-filled or otherwise unhealthy for your body, as this results in legions, fissures, fistula, ulcers or rupture.
How do you get Diverticulitis?
While diverticulitis is not contagious in the viral sense, it certainly is contagious in a socio-cultural sense. The symptoms of diverticulitis often strike quickly in an acute attack the first time, but that attack has been decades in the making, which is why it's rare for Diverticulitis to rear it's ugly head in anyone under the age of 25.
It's a condition of the gut that takes time to develop and most often occurs in people with negative eating, drinking, exercising, smoking and substance abuse habits.
As of this moment in linear-time (May 19th, 2013), Diverticulitis is spread from person to person by virus or bacteria. It isn't hereditary and it doesn't seem to be the result of any single gene or birth-deficiency that only 'some people' have. Instead, it's a condition that can creep up on any person, any time, anywhere.
That being said, Diverticulitis certainly is contagious in the sense that if you have it, you probably have friends or family who have it too. And not because you're all just that lucky, but because we humans are social creatures, and if you're friends have sour health habits, you likely do to.
The above statement isn't meant to be judging or pointing any fingers, especially since I was recently diagnosed with Diverticulitis myself. It's more meant as a point of observation and blunt facts about human habits and health. I am a child of the 80's, back when fast food and TV dinners were thought to be perfectly "healthy", and TV was encouraged much more often than sports and outdoor activities. It took TONS of time to bring myself out of that sort of upbringing and into a place where my diet and exercise habits are at least reasonable.
And as time has progressed, I've certainly paid for all the years I mistreated my own body. Some effects are easy to reverse and others are not, especially when you're on the bottom end of the food chain financially speaking. The flair up that struck me down came after a few months of eating the cheapest food I could gather, in the hopes that it (a) wouldn't do too much damage if it was only temporary and (b) might help me spread out the food needs of my family of 10 (one toddler, one 3rd grader, 3 adults, 4 cats and 1 dog). To my slight surprise, after 5 years of mostly organic eating and mild exercising, it didn't take that long for my body to declare mutiny on me when I went back to cheap chemical filled foods.
Of all the years I've spent writing about alternative health, medicine and living, I know that there is absolutely no way on the great green earth that I suddenly just "got" diverticulitis. That being said, plenty of websites and doctors will tell you that you need to change your diet, but they rarely mention that it's LONG TERM changes that are way more important the short week of changes they tell you to make. Even many health organizations treat diverticulitis as some sort of mystery disorder that just appears one day.
Though for the people that take the time to do their homework, it's easy to tell that diverticulitis is simply your bodies way of pleading with you to make changes in your lifestyle NOW and then maintain those changes for life. It might help to eat soft foods for a week but that diverticulitis will flare right up again as soon as you go back to your diet of stress, crap food and sitting. In fact, it's well documented that many people find themselves carry diverticulitis with them to the grave because they only used healthy eating as a quick-fix for their diverticulitis attacks and didn't truly change their lifestyle.
Only one experience in billions
This hub is going to cover the signs and symptoms of diverticulitis in my particular experience.I only want to make this clear now because it means that this hub should not be your last stop in learning more about diverticulitis. That includes those of you wondering what that strange new pain is in your lower left or right abdomen, as well as those of you whom have been suffering with diverticulitis for years.
That being said, thousands of experiences could not be important with out each individual one, and it's my hope that in some way this hub might be able to help someone somewhere in some way. =)
Feels like food poisoning
Honestly, when I first noticed any symptoms, I thought I had a small bout of food poisoning. Though there wasn't anything that I ate that was potentially contaminated, so I just braced for a day or to of feeling yucky. It wasn't until day FIVE that it wasn't likely that it was just food poisoning.
If you're not sure what the symptoms of food poisoning are, my experience has been:
Basically, you just don't feel well. Depending on how bad the poisoning was, you might also experience some vomiting or a moderate fever.
The cramping became worse than I've ever known myself to have with food poisoning, stomach bugs or influenza. It got so bad, that it started to trigger spasms that I thought I wouldn't feel ever again since I changed my diet to help control IBS. They seemed to come in waves that made me want to curl up and whine (much to the annoyance of my 8 year old).
I can't say that these cramps were "painful". They were just very uncomfortable and intense. Then again, I have a strange pain tolerance as others have told me cramps like those are very painful, so you might experience them as more or less painful than I did.
Stabbing pain in the lower right abdomen
This symptom was what really alerted me that there was more of a problem in my body than I had originally suspected. It felt similar to the pain I experienced when my appendix became inflamed and infected 8 years earlier. Though since I had my appendix removed back then, I knew it couldn't be that. I also remember that the appendix pain felt as though someone was kicking me in the side very hard, this new pain was more like someone was stabbing me in the side and not removing the intrusive and sharp object they were sticking in there.
This pain was the worst when I laid down, stood up, sat up or moved around. There really was not any position I could find that would relieve the pain for more than a minute or two. That being said, it wasn't a pain that I couldn't sleep through or deal with. It is definitely uncomfortable, but not impossible to deal with. Than again, I'm a person with incredible dental problems and once you've had a tooth abscess, it's rare when anything else can make you cry.
This stabbing pain that I had, felt like it was seated just behind and above my right hip (pelvic) bone. It was warm to the touch, but there were not any other outwardly visible signs that there was anything wrong there. No bug or spider bites, cuts or protrusions. It was definitely very painful for anything to touch me anywhere on the right side of my stomach though, which I knew was a major problem. If it hurts only on the inside, it's more likely that you have something that will pass, but when it hurts on the outside too, it's usually a sign of a larger problem.
Changes in bowel habits
I won't go into too much detail here, but it's a necessary symptom to cover, especially for those of you who have IBS as well. IBS makes most BM's irregular as it is. Sometimes you go a lot, sometimes you go a little and it rarely fits the description of "normal".
For your non-IBS sufferer, the symptom would be diarrhea. For someone living with IBS, you're going to have to trust your body and intuition when you sense that things are "off" down there. For me, it was a lack of movements that spread out for several days. For you it might be different.
Feeling slightly feverish
I remember when the ER doctor asked me if I had a fever. I told her that I didn't have any thermometers, but that I did feel as though I had a mild fever. There are easy ways to tell if you have a fever, which is a natural response to infection in your body and a good indicator that your pain is linked to an infected organ.
Signs of a light fever:
- Warm Skin
- Warm Forehead
- Lack of Appetite
- General Tiredness
All of the above fit in my own situation and from what I understand, that is very common. For me, the experience of diverticulitis is new, but the topic itself is certainly not new to me. Over the years, I have many friends and family who either live with diverticulitis or whom have had it once or twice in their lives, and slight fevers are definitely a trademark of diverticulitis. It's part of what zaps energy from your brain as your body goes to work in your colon.
Magic 8 ball says "Go see a damn doctor!"
In this case, the magic 8 ball was really just my intuition. I knew that there was something more wrong with me than a simple flu. The pain was slowly growing as the days went on and with a toddler in the home there is no way I can be less than in tip top shape for more than a day or two.
Not to mention, I have a history of ovarian and digestive challenges that made me a bit concerned. Pains on the left side of your abdomen are important, but there is more significant dangers on the right side of your abdomen where so many organs are crammed in next to each other. This is especially important to know for fellow females. If you have serious pain on your right side, don't ignore it! Don't ignore the left side either, but be more punctual about getting help for right-sided pains.
Textbook signs and symptoms of Diverticulitis
My signs and symptoms didn't all fit the textbook description of the signs and symptoms of diverticulitis and it's important to keep in mind that yours probably won't either. This happens because there are lots of variables involved in how you might experience the condition. Your habits, stress levels, pain tolerance, self-awareness and lifestyle choices make a huge difference.
That being said, the textbook descriptions are there because they are signs and symptoms that are found to be more common. If you find you have three or more of these signs or symptoms, go in and get diagnosed so that you can make an informed decision about what you want to do and prevent any serious complications.
The Signs & Symptoms of Diverticulitis
- Pale Skin
- Mild Fever
- Excessive Gas
- Lack of Appetite
- Elevated Blood Pressure
- High White Blood Cell Count
- Changes in Bowel Movements
- Pain that feelings like stabbing, stinging or burning.
- Pain that appears suddenly and mild, than gradually increases.
- Pain in the left or right lower abdomen from that hurts when touching or not, moving or not.
Many of these signs and symptoms can also be attributed to other conditions, diseases and disorders. Be mindful to ask your doctor to check you for any potential cause of your ailments if they don't do so naturally. The doctor that I saw, was caught between Kidney Stones and a Gall Bladder infection. After examining where on my body the pain hurt from the outside, she was able to rule out any ovarian problems and since my appendix wasn't there, it couldn't have been that. Though she did say that would have been her first diagnosis without further testing.
While you could potentially diagnose diverticulitis from the outside, because the signs and symptoms are so easily confused with other problems, the only way to diagnose it with any certainty is to get a modern Cat Scan (or "CT" Scan). They will give you some Iodine through IV which acts as a contrasting color, then they will take a few scans of your mid section and send them off to the doctor.
Cat Scans are extremely accurate when it comes to diverticulitis, which is very good for you. If you have it, they will know right away and be able to help you manage pain and any infections. If you don't have it, they will also know right away and it's likely that the scan will reveal what is bugging you.
If you end up in the Emergency Room (ER) like I did, than you'll likely be given something to immediately relieve some of the pain. The sooner you're able to relax your body, the better. Your colon responds to tension in the body and when we're in pain, we often clench hundreds of different muscles at various times, making it hard for the colon to relax. This is why diverticulitis pain is on the list of conditions that need immediate pain relief.
When I went in, they told me I was lucky that I came right in to the ER instead of waiting to see a doctor the next week and that time saved me from getting a colon abscess or rupture. I definitely did have an infection though, which meant immediate antibiotics through IV. Whether you go to see your general practitioner or you go to an urgent care facility, you're definitely going to be given some antibiotics. Make sure to take the time to ask them what they are called, what is in them, why they want you to take them, what will happen if you don't take them and what natural sources of antibiotics you can use instead of synthetic antibiotics (like fresh garlic).
The worst potential complication of diverticulitis is a rupture of your colon, which can leak fecal matter into your blood stream and cause sepsis (blood poisoning). If you find yourself in the situation of having a rupture, treatment will be a lot different. In these cases, they will want to operate immediately to get your colon closed up, your blood clean and your life out of the danger zone. This is why it's so vital not to wait when you notice any signs or symptoms.
Either way, you're trip home will include some antibiotics, pain killers and anti-nausea medicine. Make sure you know what all of them, why you want them and what is in them. If you forgot to ask your doctor before you left, ask the pharmacist.
All in all, my trip to the ER to find out I had diverticulitis that needed immediate care, took about 10 hours between driving, waiting, being diagnosed, being treated and going to the different diagnostic tools. That's not to bad considering a bad case could have cost me my life.
Suggested home care is to eat soft low fiber foods like fruits with the skins removed and soup. You definitely want to go this route for at least the next 3 or 4 days, and it's likely that your body won't allow you to eat much of anything else unless you want to really pay for it.
After your "soft food" diet, you have two hard choices to choose between:
- Slowly go back to your "normal" eating habits
- Change your eating, exercising and lifestyle habits so that you NEVER have to go through the pain or risk of diverticulitis again.
The choice is yours. Don't choose lightly.