Diverticulitis and stress: How they are linked and what to do for diverticulitis stress

diverticulitis and stressDiverticulitis is a condition that results from the inflammation of diverticula—pouch-like bulges that are found in the lower part of the large intestine. Diverticula in themselves are not harmful and are actually commonly found in adults over the age of 40, but when these pouches become infected, it can lead to the diagnosis of diverticulitis.

Diverticula are thought to occur due to a combination of increased intestinal pressure and weak spots of the intestinal mucosa leading to the formation of small bulges. They don’t usually present with symptoms and are typically found during a routine colonoscopy. In situations in which diverticula become infected, they have the potential for bursting, releasing their contents outside of the large intestine. This can lead to a bunch of new, more serious complications.

Common symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Severe pain—commonly on the left side of the abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea (rarely).

How are diverticulitis and stress linked?


Stress is thought to be the cause of many different health conditions, as it may put undue strain on the body. It is possible that stress plays a role in the development of diverticulitis, as it is estimated that in 60 percent of cases, the condition occurs due to environmental causes. Stress on the digestive system is commonly experienced because of low-fiber diets. Diets high in fat may also cause diverticulitis. This inflammatory condition is more commonly seen in the elderly compared to the young.

While the exact pathophysiology behind how stress may cause diverticulitis is poorly understood, we know that stress can cause inflammation. This inflammation may be a factor that potentially leads to the development of diverticulitis. Experiencing high amounts of stress is well known to disrupt digestion and many other functions of the body.

It is believed that when the body thinks it is under attack during times of stress, it responds by directing more blood and oxygen to the muscle and brain. This diversion of resources takes away from the immune and digestive systems, leading to an increased chance of problem development.

What happens in stress-induced diverticulitis?

It is almost impossible to avoid all forms of stress in this hectic world we live in. What we can do is learn how to control it. Much of the stress that we experience is often self-inflicted, so it can be modified if we properly acknowledge its sources. Is your job causing you a lot of stress? Are you constantly working in a high-pressure environment? You may need to re-evaluate your own personal situation and ask yourself: do you really need it? And is it worth the cost of your health?

Not all sources of stress originate in the workplace. Stress may be due to personal relationships or even mental or physical ailments. When there’s too much stress to handle, seeking professional help is recommended.

Is anxiety related to diverticulitis?

Increasing evidence suggests that anxiety could be related to diverticulitis. Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive worry, unease, and fear. These emotional responses can trigger the body’s stress response, leading to physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, and stomach upset. These heightened responses can lead to disturbances in the digestive system, potentially exacerbating symptoms of diverticulitis.

Moreover, living with a chronic illness like diverticulitis can also contribute to anxiety. The unpredictable nature of the disease, the pain and discomfort associated with flare-ups, the dietary restrictions, and the potential for serious complications can all be sources of significant anxiety. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for individuals with diverticulitis to experience an increase in anxiety symptoms. It is important to talk to a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing increased anxiety as there are many effective treatments available.

Is depression related to diverticulitis?

Depression, like anxiety, can also be associated with diverticulitis. Chronic illnesses, including diverticulitis, can be physically draining, leading to feelings of hopelessness and sadness. Persistent pain, repeated flare-ups, and lifestyle changes required for managing the disease can negatively impact a person’s quality of life, potentially leading to depression.

Moreover, there’s a well-established link between the gut and the brain, often referred to as the “gut-brain axis.” Changes in gut health and function, like those seen in diverticulitis, can have an impact on mental health, including the onset or worsening of depressive symptoms. Therefore, anyone experiencing symptoms of depression, such as persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, or changes in sleep or appetite, should seek help from a healthcare professional.

How long does diverticulitis last if left untreated?

If left untreated, an episode of acute diverticulitis can last several days to a few weeks. However, this can vary greatly from person to person and can be influenced by the severity of the inflammation and infection. Some individuals may experience a mild episode that resolves on its own in a few days, while others may experience severe symptoms that last several weeks.

What happens when diverticulitis is left untreated?


If diverticulitis is left untreated, it can lead to serious complications. The infected diverticula can burst, causing an abscess (a pocket of infection) or peritonitis (a widespread infection of the lining of the abdomen). Both conditions are serious and require immediate medical attention. Additionally, repeated episodes of untreated diverticulitis can lead to chronic digestive issues, including changes in bowel habits, persistent pain, and even intestinal blockages.

How to treat stress-induced diverticulitis

  • Meditate. Taking a few minutes a day to close your eyes and focus on softly reciting a mantra such as “I feel at peace” or “I love myself” is an excellent way to meditate. This can help ease anxiety and even alter neural pathways in the brain to make you more resilient to stress.
    Breathe deeply. Closing your eyes and allowing yourself to breathe slowly and deeply through your nose can counter the effects of stress. Deep breathing can even slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.
  • Be present. The common saying is to “stop and smell the roses.” Stopping to take the time in your hectic schedule to notice how the air feels on your face or feeling how the ground feels under your feet can help you focus on your senses and feel less stress.
  • Reach out. Talking to your friends, preferably face to face, is a great way to handle stress. Being social can give you a different perspective while keeping your connections strong.
    Tune into your body. Take the time to think about your body overall and whether it needs more attention. Lie down on your back, or sit with your feet on the floor to get a good idea of how your body feels.
  • Decompress. Place a warm heat wrap around your neck and shoulders for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and simultaneously relax your face, neck, upper chest, and back muscle. The use of a tennis ball or foam roller can help massage away tension.
  • Laugh out loud. The saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. A good belly laugh doesn’t just lower your stress levels; it has also been shown to lower the body’s cortisol stress hormone. Laughter also boosts brain chemicals called endorphins, which can help elevate mood.
  • Crank up the tunes. Music is a great way to ease stress. Research has shown that listening to soothing music can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety. Nature sounds are also a great way to decrease stress. Listen to the ocean, a babbling brook, or falling rain, and just sit back and let the stress melt away.
  • Get moving. Exercise, including yoga and walking, is a great way to ease depression and anxiety. Being active helps release “feel good” chemicals that are great for reducing stress levels.
    Be grateful. Keeping track of all the things that are good in your life in a book or journal can serve as a good reminder. During times of stress, you can just look at this to feel better.
  • Call a friend. Talking to a good friend can help you think of problems in a different way, possibly giving you a solution. Good relationships with friends and loved ones are important for a healthy lifestyle.
  • Eat right. Keeping a proper diet that is healthy and full of beneficial nutrients can keep your body in great shape and promote happiness. Oftentimes when we are stressed, we turn to sugary, fatty, unhealthy foods, which will not help your stress in the long run.
  • Drink tea. Green tea has less caffeine and contains healthy antioxidants. It also contains theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect on the nervous system.
  • Sleep better. A lack of sleep can lead to increased stress throughout the day. If a person doesn’t get enough sleep on a regular basis, it can lead to a vicious cycle of stress. Make time to turn off the TV, dim the light, and give yourself enough time to prepare for a restful night’s sleep free of distraction.

When to see a doctor for diverticulitis stress

It is important to see a doctor if you are experiencing significant stress related to diverticulitis. Not only can this stress exacerbate your physical symptoms, but it can also impact your overall well-being. Seek help if you notice changes in your mood, sleep, or appetite or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed.

Your healthcare professional can help you identify stress management strategies and potentially refer you to a mental health professional for additional support. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Mental health is just as important as physical health when managing a chronic illness like diverticulitis.



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