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Common diverticulosis can lead to pain

By on April 25, 2021 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Jim Brown

By Jim Brown, M.D.

Diverticulosis of the colon is a relatively common condition. 

In fact one half of people over age 60 have this condition. In most of them it is without symptoms. 

This is a condition where small pea-sized out-pouchings develop primarily in the lower sigmoid colon, the part of the large intestine located in the left lower part of our abdomen. 

Why do so many of us get these out-pouchings? It is thought that a low-fiber diet might be a factor as it contributes to constipation and straining to have a bowel movement. 

Diverticulosis itself does not cause any symptoms to the patient. 

The first time that many patients find out they have them is while having a colonoscopy for cancer screening.

Diverticulitis is a potential complication of having diverticuli. If one gets diverticulitis the symptoms are pain in the left lower abdomen, tenderness and usually with chills and fever. 

It can develop due to a diverticula becoming inflamed, or the development of a small leak in one of these out-pouchings in the bowel wall resulting in an infection. 

In some cases, they can perforate leading to an abscess or even peritonitis. If that happens it usually becomes a surgical condition, which can lead to a resection of a segment of the colon or even a temporary colostomy until the infection is taken care of. 

My personal experience with diverticulitis occurred about 16 years ago while I was in Norway. 

My son Steve had called me to tell me that he was going to a medical conference in northern Norway in the city of Tromso, located above the Arctic Circle. 

Steve had developed an Internet device to monitor medical patients remotely on a daily basis. It seemed perfect for Norway with its remoteness. 

He also said that we could visit Harstad, Norway on our way to Tromso. Harstad is a beautiful small town located on a fjord known for the fishing and shipping port. 

Since my grandparents on my mom’s side came from Harstad, it seemed like a great opportunity to see where my Kildal roots came from. 

As it so happened, Shirley Wadsworth, who worked at what was then the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center, told me she had had an exchange student from Harstad in the past. She gave me the student’s mother’s email address so I contacted her. The mother said as soon as you get to Harstad, please call me, which I did. 

She then said. “I will pick you and Steve up tomorrow.” She took us to a small home on the edge of town. To our surprise, there were about 15 Kildals waiting to greet us and serve us delicious Norwegian treats. 

Fortunately, one person brought their book of the Kildal history dating back to 1600. They scrolled down to my grandparents and then my mother who had married a Brown, so we were accepted into the Kildal clan. 

This was a wonderful, once in a lifetime experience. From there after exploring the beautiful Harstad area, we went to Tromso for the conference. 

The highlight for me was hearing the keynote speaker who was the head of the Noble Prize committee. 

After that, Steve and I parted. I flew to Oslo and stayed at a hotel near the airport and had a wonderful day exploring lovely Oslo. The night before my flight the next day to Seattle, I started to have pain in my left lower abdomen. It was very tender and I developed chills and fever. I knew then that I had diverticulitis. 

It was fortunate in that I had the right antibiotics with me and started them immediately. 

I called my wife, Lynn, before boarding my flight to Seattle and asked her to get me an appointment with my gastroenterology partner Dr. Robert Ogburn as soon as I arrived in Wenatchee. 

I was feeling somewhat better after the antibiotics kicked in and thought I could make it back to the States safely. 

So far (knock on wood) I have not had another episode of diverticulitis. 

 Jim Brown, M.D., is a retired gastroenterologist who has practiced for 38 years in the Wenatchee area. He is a former CEO of the Wenatchee Valley Medical Center.

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