What Causes Diverticulitis? 10 Things Doctors Wish You Knew

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If you have ever been sidelined by diverticulitis, you know that it’s excruciating. To keep this gastrointestinal condition from coming back, start by understanding what causes diverticulitis.

Don’t worry about nuts and seeds

popcorn lovers, rejoice! Nuts and seeds likely do not cause diverticulitis, despite what people believe. This is a huge game changer as doctors have advised anyone with a history of diverticulitis to refrain from eating nuts, seeds, and popcorn. “We used to think that seeds or popcorn got stuck in these pockets and blocked them resulting in inflammation and infection,” Dr. Swaminath says.

A faulty gut microbiome

Diverticulitis or its predecessor diverticulosis may link back to alterations in the bacterial balance in the gut (aka the microbiome), says Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. “The human colon is the densest concentration of bacteria on the planet,” he says. “When you are fiber-deprived, you alter the patterns of bacteria in the gut, and the bad bacteria can outnumber the good,” he says.

Your diet lacks fruit and vegetable fiber

There are some other reasons why low fiber diets may increase the risk of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. The fiber connection may be a mechanical one, adds Dr. Swaminath. “Fiber bulks up the stool, and it takes less pressure to get a bulky stool out than an under-fibered, dry stool,” he says.

Your genes

If your mom or dad had diverticulitis, it doesn’t mean you will too, but there is a genetic component, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. “We do see this in families, but that does not mean you are predestined,” he says. “If diverticulitis runs in your family, be more conscious about consuming enough fiber.”

You love processed foods and red meat

What causes diverticulitis can vary depending on your diet. Processed foods contain chemicals and preservatives that may harm your gut microbiome and increase your risk for diverticulitis, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. “We know that colon cancer risk is associated with eating too many processed meats, and the root Causes of Diverticulitis is alterations in bacteria in the gut so this may also play a role in causing diverticulitis.

Your weight Causes Diverticulitis

Add diverticulitis to the list of diseases and conditions that being overweight can make worse. New research shows that obese individuals are actually more likely to develop recurrent diverticulitis and need surgery to treat it, according to a study published in Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. One potential reason for the connection may be the increased levels of inflammation common to being overweight or obese.

Your smoking status Causes Diverticulitis

The same study in Diseases of the Colon & Rectum showed that smokers are more likely to experience repeated bouts of diverticulitis and may need surgery to treat it. Doctors are unsure why smoking heightens risk, but “patients with modifiable risk factors such as smoking and obesity can be counseled because this may reduce the risk of recurrent acute diverticulitis,” the study authors said in a news release.

Your chronic pain meds

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can alleviate pain, but they may also leave you vulnerable to diverticulosis and diverticulitis, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. These meds are harsh on the stomach and can increase the chances of gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers, and they may trigger diverticulitis flare-ups.

Your overindulgence in alcohol Causes Diverticulitis

Excessive consumption of alcohol may double or triple your risk of diverticulitis, according to the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. While experts aren’t sure exactly why the two are linked, one theory is that drinking too much alcohol may make the colon more vulnerable to both diverticula and diverticulitis.

Your age and gender Causes Diverticulitis

Younger patients and women are more likely to develop recurrent diverticulitis and require surgery, according to a study published in Diseases of the Colon & Rectum. Which is why it’s rarely a bad idea to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. However, for most people, a seven- to 14-day course of antibiotics usually clears up the infection for good, Dr. Swaminath says.

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