Sibyl Brazil of Nacogdoches, Texas, first noticed the pain on her lower left side while shopping for groceries about 15 years ago. It came and went, starting out as a dull ache. Over a few weeks, the ache became a constant, sharp stab. "When it gets bad, really awful, you want to just die," she says.
Her misery turned out to be diverticulitis, the inflammation of abnormal pea-sized pouches protruding from her intestines. The condition, which may be the result of a low-fiber diet, often strikes older adults, says Joseph Sellin, M.D., Chief of Staff at Hermann Hospital in Houston, Texas. About half of all 50-year-olds and about 70 percent of people in their 70s get diverticulitis.
Sibyl, now 80, has been hospitalized twice in the past 10 years -- the last time after hemorrhaging. Luckily, all she needed was a dose of antibiotics. "It isn't any fun," she says. "You go along for weeks with no problem, and then all of a sudden it hits you."
Symptoms: People with diverticulitis suffer cramping abdominal pain, most commonly on the left side, or experience pain during a bowel movement. Fever and diarrhea are also signs.
Diagnosis: A physical exam, white-blood count, and barium-enema X ray generally reveal the problem.
Treatment: Antibiotics can cure diverticulitis, but in severe cases, an operation to drain and remove abscesses may be needed.