What is Diarrhea, Constipation, and Diverticular Disease?

Diarrhea and constipation are relatively common conditions that most people experience a few times a year. While this is pretty normal for our digestive systems, there are times it can point to Diverticular Disease. These are also some of the more common conditions we treat at Idaho Digestive Center.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is loose, watery stools accompanied by more frequent bowel movements. Usually, it is a condition that passes within a few days. Other symptoms of diarrhea can include:

  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Bloating
  • Urgent need to have a bowel movement
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Mucus in the stool
  • Blood in the stool
  • Dehydration
What is Diarrhea, Constipation, and Diverticular Disease? | Idaho Digestive Health Institute

Constipation

Constipation is measured as fewer than three bowel movements per week. The bowel movements are composed of hardened stool that is difficult to pass. Constipation can quickly become chronic, with symptoms that include:

  • Passing stools that are hard or lumpy
  • Straining to have a bowel movement
  • A sensation that there is a blockage in your rectum preventing you from having a bowel movement
  • Feeling like you are unable to pass all the stool from your rectum
  • Feeling like you need help emptying your rectum, including pressing down on your abdomen or even using your finger to dislodge the stool from your rectum

Diverticular Disease

Diverticular Disease is two different conditions: diverticulosis and diverticulitis. They are conditions that occur in your colon or large intestine, where pockets or protrusions called diverticula can form in the intestinal wall. These pockets are the result of too much pressure inside your colon. They can be the size of a pea to substantially larger and are most commonly discovered in the lower left side of the large intestine, in the sigmoid colon. The two conditions that make up diverticular disease differ as follows:

Diverticulosis

The presence of diverticula in the colon is called diverticulosis. In western populations, the condition is found in 10% of those over the age of forty and 50% over sixty. This rate increases and diverticulosis is present in nearly everyone by eighty. The condition usually will not cause symptoms beyond mild cramping, bloating, or constipation accompanied by possible tenderness over the affected area. It usually does not require treatment. It can, however, lead to diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis

The inflammation and infection of one or more diverticula is called diverticulitis. You can experience pain, nausea, and fever, among other symptoms. Diverticulitis can be a potentially dangerous condition. Symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Pain starts as mild but can escalate over a matter of days or come on quite suddenly.
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe cramping in the lower abdomen
  • Constipation or diarrhea, with diarrhea being less common
  • Rectal bleeding

The cause of these two conditions is believed to be the strain of constipation. Over time, bacteria from the stool can get caught in the diverticula and become infected. Diverticulitis is diagnosed via a physical exam, lab work, and CT scan. If bleeding is present, a colonoscopy may also be ordered.

What Treatments are Recommended for Diarrhea, Constipation, and Diverticular Disease?

Treatment for Diarrhea

Most cases of diarrhea resolve on their own after a day or two. While you are recovering from diarrhea, you need to:

  • Drink lots of water with added electrolytes, juices, and clear broth. Diarrhea can leave you dehydrated, so replacing fluids needs to be your first priority. If you are still experiencing nausea and vomiting to the point where you cannot hold liquids down, your doctor may recommend IV fluids.
  • If bacteria or parasites cause your diarrhea, antiparasitic medication or antibiotics may be prescribed.
  • Adjust current medication. Some antibiotics can cause diarrhea. If you take these, your doctor may lower your dose or substitute a different medication.
  • Treat any underlying conditions that your doctor identifies.
What Treatments are Recommended for Diarrhea, Constipation, and Diverticular Disease?

Treatment for Constipation

Your doctor may recommend the following course of action to help relieve your constipation:

  • Lifestyle changes: these can include increasing your fiber intake. You can do this by slowly adding more fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet. Exercise can help increase activity in your intestinal tract to help move the stool along. Finally, don't ever hold a bowel movement by fighting the urge to have a bowel movement.
  • Laxatives: You need to be very careful with this one. While they all have the same goal, each one is different. Fiber supplements such as Metamucil or Citrucel are good stool softeners. Stimulant laxatives such as Correcol or Dulcolax will help your intestine contract. Stool softeners such as Colace will help get the missing moisture back into your stool by pulling water from the intestines. Enemas and suppositories can work quickly by lubricating the intestines. 
  • Biofeedback: This treatment will help you learn how to retrain your pelvic muscles. When you can relax the pelvic floor muscles, it can help you pass stool more easily.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, or in cases where constipation is chronic or caused by a blockage or stricture, surgery may be indicated. This may also be indicated in people with extremely slow motility, which is the slow movement of stool through the colon. When this type of surgery is indicated, the surgeon will remove a part of the colon.

Treatment for Diverticular Disease

As previously mentioned, since most of the western population will eventually develop diverticulosis, there is little to treat when it comes to diverticular disease. When it comes to diverticulitis, things are very different. 

Treatment for Diverticulitis depends on whether it is uncomplicated or complicated. 

Treatment for uncomplicated diverticulitis includes antibiotics to treat the infection and a clear liquid diet while you begin to heal.

A severe attack brings on complicated diverticulitis. Treatment begins with hospitalization using IV antibiotics. If diverticula have abscessed, a tube may be inserted to drain it. Surgery is indicated if there have been multiple severe attacks, the presence of an abscess, or an underlying condition involving a weakened immune system. 

Following treatment of an abscess, your doctor may order two procedures, a colonoscopy and an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), to view all aspects of the digestive system and rule out conditions such as colon cancer.

How can Gastroenterologist Dr. Andrew Woolf Help Patients with Diarrhea, Constipation, and Diverticular Disease?

Dr. Andrew Woolf is an experienced and compassionate gastroenterologist who focuses on the best way to treat each patient and get them back on the road to wellness. He chooses to treat each of his patients in the manner he would want to be treated. Dr. Woolf takes the time to listen to your concerns and all of the details of your condition. His expertise enables him to develop an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan for each patient. 

Here at Idaho Digestive Health Institute, our highly skilled staff provide compassionate care during the diagnosis and treatment of your digestive condition. We maintain strict infection control and safety standards and use various diagnostic and treatment procedures to address your digestive health conditions. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with Caldwell, Idaho's top gastroenterologist, Dr. Woolf, and get back on the road to the quality of life you deserve.

Why Go To Idaho Digestive Health Institute And See Dr. Woolf For This Procedure?

Dr. Woolf has the extended training necessary for the push enteroscopy procedure. In Caldwell, the Idaho Digestive Health Institute has knowledgeable and compassionate staff who will take the best care of you before, during, and after your procedure. If you are ready to schedule your push enteroscopy, contact us today.