As you age, you're more likely to develop diverticulosis, a disorder that affects the colon's walls. Indeed, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that approximately 58 per cent of persons over the age of 60 have diverticulosis.
Diverticulosis develops when small bulges (referred to as diverticula) form in weak sections of the colon's inner wall. Although these bulges develop naturally over time, some situations and lifestyle practices might hasten the process. For example, those who suffer from chronic constipation or irritable bowel syndrome are more likely to develop diverticulosis, particularly at a younger age.
Generally, bulges do not create symptoms or concerns. The majority of people are unaware they have diverticulosis, as it is typically detected after a colonoscopy or CT scan for another reason.
Diverticulosis, on the other hand, can progress to a more dangerous condition called diverticulitis. This condition develops when one or more bulges become inflamed or infectious. It often manifests as pain in the lower abdomen, most frequently on the left side, and is frequently accompanied by fever and exhaustion. Diverticulitis is a serious infection that requires rapid medical attention and, in severe cases, hospitalization. In some instances, surgery may be required.
A haemorrhage in the lower intestine is another possible consequence of diverticulosis. As diverticula expand, the colon's wall weakens, perhaps resulting in a rupture of one of the small blood veins that supply the inner lining.
"The greatest method to avoid diverticulitis and bleeding is to prevent diverticulosis," says Dr Matthew Hamilton, a gastroenterologist affiliated with Harvard Medical School and medical editor of the Harvard Medical School Guide Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis.
Reduce your risk
To begin, address the risk factors for diverticulosis. Among them are the following:
Males with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30, categorized as obese, had a 78% increased risk of diverticulosis compared to men with a normal BMI of less than 21.
According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, smokers had a 46 per cent increased incidence of diverticulosis compared to nonsmokers.
Utilization of specific drugs
Numerous medicines, including corticosteroids, opiates, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, have been related to an increased incidence of diverticulosis and decreased intestinal haemorrhage. "This is not to imply you should avoid these medications, particularly if you use them to treat other diseases, but you should consult your doctor if you take them on a regular basis," Dr Hamilton advises.
Maintain a healthy system
You can further reduce your risk of diverticulosis, and thus of bleeding and diverticulitis, by enhancing the general health of your digestive tract. Listed below are several strategies to achieve this.
Consume an adequate amount of fibre
Fibre helps to bulk up stools and transport waste through the intestines, allowing for regular and healthy bowel motions. Consuming insufficient fiber also increases your risk of constipation, which causes you to strain when defecating. Over time, this increased pressure can erode the colon's walls, increasing the likelihood of diverticula formation.
What amount of fiber do you require? According to a 2020 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition, those who ingest 30 grams of fibre daily had a 41% lower chance of getting diverticulosis and diverticulitis than those who consume 7.5 grams daily.
Adults, on the other hand, consume approximately half of this amount every day. One method of determining your fibre consumption is to multiply it by your daily calorie intake.
The National Academy of Medicine recommends that individuals ingest 14 grams of fibre per 1,000 calories consumed. This equates to 34 grams for a 2,400-calorie-per-day diet, 28 grams for 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, and 22 grams for 1,600-calorie-per-day diet.
There is plenty of high-fibre foods to pick from. (Visit /fibre for a list of typical fibre-rich foods recommended by the American Dietary Guidelines.) However, the following techniques will help you incorporate more fibre into your diet:
Each meal should include fruits, vegetables, or a combination of the two.
At least three times a week, consume beans, lentils, or peas.
As for snacks, select slices of fruit or a palm-sized dish of nuts or seeds. Additionally, incorporate them into other foods such as yoghurt, cereal, and salads.
Substitute whole wheat, quinoa, chickpea, or lentil pasta for regular pasta.
Consume more whole grains such as brown rice or bulgur rather than white rice.
Maintain regular bathroom visits
Additionally, delaying a bowel movement might exacerbate straining. Keep track of your restroom visits to gain a better understanding of when they are most likely to occur. If you suffer from chronic constipation, consult your physician about laxatives or stool softeners.
Take a stroll
Any type of exercise or activity is beneficial for maintaining a healthy digestive tract. Additionally, consider walking for 15 minutes following your meal. This can expedite the passage of food from the stomach to the small intestine, resulting in more regular bowel movements.