My Experience With the Symptoms of Diverticulitis
What Is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is inflammation in one or several areas of your colon. Little "pockets" develop inside your colon and become inflamed, trapping partially digested food inside.
Complications can occur when those foods are sugary, acidic, chemical-filled, or otherwise unhealthy, as this can result in legions, fissures, fistulas, ulcers, or ruptures.
How Do You Get It?
While diverticulitis is not contagious, it certainly can be influenced by socio-cultural factors. The first time it happens, the symptoms strike quickly in an acute attack; however, sometimes that attack has been decades in the making, which is why it's rare for diverticulitis to rear its ugly head in anyone under the age of 25.
Diverticulitis is not spread from person to person, by viruses, or by bacteria. It isn't hereditary, and it doesn't seem to be the result of any single gene or congenital disability. It's a condition that can creep up on any person at any time. It takes time to develop and most often occurs in people with bad eating, drinking, exercising, smoking, and substance abuse habits. That being said, we humans are social creatures; if your friends have sour health habits, you likely do too.
The above statement isn't meant to be pointing any fingers, especially since I was recently diagnosed with diverticulitis myself. I am a child of the 80's, a time when fast food and TV dinners were thought to be perfectly healthy, and watching TV was encouraged much more than sports and outdoor activities. It took a lot 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.
Diverticulitis takes time to develop and most often occurs in people with harmful eating, drinking, exercising, smoking, and substance abuse habits.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Not all my symptoms of diverticulitis fit the textbook description, and it's important to keep in mind that yours probably won't either—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 commonly found amongst diverticulitis patients. If you have three or more of these symptoms, see a doctor and get diagnosed so that you can prevent any serious complications. These symptoms can be:
- Pale skin
- Mild fever
- Excessive gas
- Lack of appetite
- Elevated blood pressure
- High white blood cell count
- Changes in bowel movements
- Pain that feels like stabbing, stinging, or burning
- Mild pain that appears suddenly and then gradually increases
- Pain in the lower abdomen—both when moving around and when keeping still (whether the area is touched or not)
Many of these signs can also be attributed to other conditions, diseases, and disorders. Ask your doctor to check for any potential cause of your ailments.
My doctor said that, without further testing, she would have first diagnosed appendicitis; I don't have an appendix, however, so it couldn't have been a problem with that. After examining where the pain hurt from the outside, she was able to rule out any ovarian problems. She was then debating between a case of kidney stones and a gallbladder infection. In the end, it was diverticulitis.
If you exhibit three or more of these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as you can to get diagnosed.
How I Knew I Had to See a Doctor
I knew that there was something more wrong with me than a simple stomach flu because the pain was slowly growing as the days went on. With a toddler at home, there was no way I could be in less than in tip-top shape for more than a day or two.
I have a history of ovarian and digestive challenges that made me a bit concerned. Pains on the left side of your abdomen are a bad sign, but there are more significant dangers on the right side of your abdomen, where many organs are crammed in next to each other. This is especially important to know for females: If you have severe pain on your right side, don't ignore it! Don't neglect the left side either, but be more urgent about getting help for pains on the right side.
You Will Have to Take a CT Scan
Because the signs and symptoms of diverticulitis are so easily confused with other medical problems, the only way to diagnose it with any certainty is to get a CAT scan (CT scan). They will use a contrast agent and then take a few scans of your midsection to send to the doctor.
The good thing is that CAT scans are extremely accurate when it comes to diverticulitis. If you have it, the doctors will know right away and be able to help you manage your pain and any infections. If you don't have it, the scan will probably be able to reveal what is bugging you.
How I Was Treated
If you end up in the emergency room (ER) as I did, you'll likely be given something to relieve some of the pain immediately. The sooner you're able to relax your body, the better. When we're in pain, we often clench hundreds of different muscles, making it hard for the colon to relax.
When I went in, they told me that I was lucky to have come straight into the ER instead of waiting to see a doctor the next week—that time saved me from getting a colon abscess or rupture. However, I did have an infection, and that meant immediate IV antibiotics.
Whether you see your general practitioner or you go to an urgent care facility, you're going to be given some antibiotics. Take the time to ask 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 if there are natural antibiotics that can also be taken (such as fresh garlic).
The worst potential complication from diverticulitis is a colon rupture, which can leak fecal matter into your bloodstream and cause sepsis (blood poisoning). If your colon ruptures, treatment will be a lot different. They will want to operate immediately to close your colon, treat the sepsis, and get your life out of the danger zone. This is why you should go straight to the hospital once you notice any signs or symptoms.
Your trip home will include some antibiotics, painkillers, and anti-nausea medicine. Make sure you know what they are, why you need them, and what is in them. If you forgot to ask your doctor before you left his or her care, ask the pharmacist.
Between driving, waiting, being diagnosed, being treated, and going through the different diagnostic tools, my trip to the ER took about 10 hours. That's not too bad, especially considering that a severe case could have cost me my life.
Follow-Up Care Is Important
Suggested home care is to eat soft, low-fiber foods such as peeled fruits and soup. You'll want to do this for at least the next three or four days, and it's likely that your body won't allow you to eat much of anything else—unless you want to pay for it.
After your soft food diet, you have two hard choices to choose between:
- Slowly going back to your usual eating habits; or,
- Changing your diet, exercise, and lifestyle so that you never have to go through the pain or risk of diverticulitis again.
The choice is yours. Don't choose lightly.
What My Symptoms Were Like
It Felt Like I Had Food Poisoning
When I first noticed my symptoms, I thought I had a small bout of food poisoning. Because there wasn't anything that I had eaten that could have been contaminated, I simply braced for a day or two of feeling yucky. It wasn't until day five that I figured that it probably wasn't just food poisoning.
My usual symptoms of food poisoning are:
Depending on how severe the poisoning is, you might also experience some vomiting or a moderate fever.
I Had Intense Cramping
The cramping was worse than anything I had ever experienced from food poisoning, stomach bugs, or influenza. They got so painful that they triggered spasms that I thought I'd never feel again since I changed my diet to help control my IBS. They came 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—others have told me that those cramps are excruciating, so you might experience more or less pain than I did.
I Had Stabbing Pain in My Lower Right Abdomen
This symptom was what really alerted me that there was a more significant problem than I had initially suspected. It felt similar to the pain I experienced when my appendix became inflamed and infected eight years earlier. Since I had my appendix removed back then, I knew it couldn't be that. Appendix pain felt as though someone was kicking me in the side very hard, and this new pain was more like someone was stabbing me in the abdomen and leaving the sharp object inside.
This pain was the worst when I laid down, stood up, sat up, or moved around. There really was no position that could 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 was uncomfortable, but not impossible.
This stabbing pain that I had felt like it was seated just behind and above my right hip bone. It was warm to the touch, but there were no other outwardly visible signs—no bug bites, spider bites, cuts, or protrusions. However, it was very painful for anything to touch me on the right side of my stomach, which I knew was a major problem.
I Had Changes in My Bowel Habits
I won't go into too much detail here, but it's an important symptom to cover—especially for those of you who also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS makes most bowel movements irregular; sometimes you go a lot, sometimes you go a little, and it rarely fits the description of what's normal.
For someone who doesn't suffer from IBS, this symptom would be diarrhea. As someone living with IBS, however, 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 movement that continued for several days. For you, it might be different.
I Had a Fever
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 know if you have a high temperature, 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 situation and, from what I understand, that is very common. The experience of diverticulitis was new to me, but the topic itself was not. Over the years, I have had many friends and family who either live with diverticulitis or who have had it once or twice in their lives—slight fevers are decidedly a trademark of diverticulitis. It's part of what zaps the energy from your brain as your body goes to work inside your colon.
Make Positive Lifestyle Changes Before It's Too Late
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 financial food chain. The flare-up that struck me came after a few months of eating the cheapest food I could find. I was hoping that (a) it wouldn't do too much damage if it was only temporary and (b) it might help me spread out the food needs of my family of 10 (one toddler, one 3rd grader, three adults, four cats, and one dog). To my surprise, after five years of eating mostly organic 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.
From all the years I've spent writing about alternative health, medicine, and living, I know that there is absolutely no way that I suddenly "got" diverticulitis. Plenty of websites and doctors will tell you that you need to change your diet, but they rarely mention that long-term changes are way more important than the short term. Even health organizations treat diverticulitis as some sort of mystery disorder that just appears one day.
It's easy to tell that diverticulitis is your body's way of asking you to change your lifestyle. It might help to eat soft foods for a week, but diverticulitis will flare up again as soon as you go back to your diet of stress, crappy food, and sitting. In fact, it's well-documented that many people find themselves carrying diverticulitis to the grave because they only used healthy eating as a quick-fix and didn't truly change their lifestyles.
This Was My Experience With Diverticulitis
These are the signs and symptoms that I suffered from. I want to make it clear that this article should not be your last stop in learning about diverticulitis. Whether you're wondering what that strange new pain in your lower left or right abdomen is or if you've been suffering from diverticulitis for years, I hope this article might be able to help to you in some way.