If you suffer from a sometimes painful condition called diverticulitis, then perhaps you have wondered why you have more flare-ups during the summer.
New research from Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass., indicated it might not be your imagination. When researchers looked at nine years’ worth of hospital admissions for diverticulitis, they found that 25 percent more patients came in during August than during February.
“I thought that was a fairly large difference,” said colon surgeon and author of the Lahey study Dr. Rocco Ricciardi, speaking to Reuters Health in a March 2011 interview.
Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches called diverticula form along the colon wall, trapping bacteria that lead to inflammation and infection. Patients report such symptoms as cramps or belly pain, fever and chills, constipation or diarrhea, nausea and bloating. It is diagnosed through blood tests, CT scans or colonoscopy. Patients often find relief through high-fiber diets, applying heat to the painful area of the belly (often the lower left side), pain medication and relaxation techniques. Sometimes doctors resort to removing part of the colon.
The condition has long stymied doctors as to its causes, yet almost 300,000 people are hospitalized for it annually in the United States.
The Lahey study gathered data from 1,000 hospitals across the U.S. and calculated 370,000 diverticulitis admissions over nine years. All told, almost 30,000 of those patients came in during August, compared with approximately 24,000 patients during February.
Emerging from the study was a pattern of higher diverticulitis admissions during the summer, a lull during the winter and middle-range numbers during the spring and fall. Because its data came from hospitals, the study did not account for diverticulitis patients who sought treatment from their personal doctors or who managed their pain at home on their own.
Even so, as the Reuters Health article pointed out, the possibility that diverticulitis is worse in the summer might help doctors understand what causes it.
Ricciardi said summer flare-ups could be connected to the amount of water people drink that time of year or perhaps to medications they take, but that a follow-up study was warranted.
"I would say this is just the tip of the iceberg," Ricciardi told Reuters Health. "The vast majority of patients with diverticulitis don't come to the hospital ... so we don't know what's happening with most people with diverticulitis."
Deborah Ross is a Phoenix-based freelancer who writes about health, education, the arts and Arizona travel.