Many people who age into their 60s and beyond develop a medical condition called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is a treatable illness, but it can become life-threatening in some circumstances. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable. It is important to understand which often-prescribed medications can worsen the symptoms of diverticulitis, and when they should be avoided.
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of diverticula. Diverticula are harmless sac-like pouches that develop within weak spots in the walls of the digestive tract, most often in the colon. People of all ages can develop diverticula, but the likelihood is greater in later years. The medical term for asymptomatic diverticula is "diverticulosis." Sometimes the pouches become infected, and this can lead to serious medical issues and pain. The condition then becomes "diverticulitis."
If you receive a diagnosis of diverticulosis, your doctor reviews strategies such as dietary changes to help you avoid infection. If you are seeking medical attention because you already have pain or fever that are symptomatic of inflammation or infection, your doctor prescribes treatment with antibiotics as well dietary restrictions. Severe cases may necessitate surgery. In all situations, you are advised to avoid steroid medications such as prednisone.
Prednisone is a corticosteroid drug with anti-inflammatory properties. It is an effective treatment in many conditions including arthritis, allergies, asthma, ulcers and even cancer. However, like all steroids, prednisone has side effects. It weakens your immune system and makes you vulnerable to infection. Using prednisone during an active case of diverticulitis may increase the severity of the illness. It can also rekindle a resolved infection, so you should avoid taking prednisone even after your symptoms of diverticulitis have been successfully treated.
Prednisone can also present problems for people with asymptomatic diverticulosis. Steroids may lead to perforations in the diverticula, releasing intestinal bacteria into surrounding tissues and causing serious infection. According to the Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association, the mortality rate in these cases is between 27 percent to 100 percent. Doctors who prescribe prednisone for unrelated medical conditions might not anticipate that you have an undiagnosed case of diverticulosis. Let your physician know if you develop symptoms of pain and tenderness in the lower left side of your abdomen after a course of prednisone. You may have developed a case of diverticulitis.
Special Concern for Elders
Elderly people are particularly prone to diverticulosis. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports that nearly half the population has the condition by age 60, and as many as a quarter of those individuals will develop a dangerous infection. To complicate matters, elders are prescribed prednisone for a multitude of other conditions that are equally life-threatening. If you have diverticulosis or diverticulitis, it is important to let your doctor know if you are being treated with prednisone for other medical problems. She can review your options and determine the safest and most effective course of treatment for your health issues.
- Drugs.com: Prednisone
- "Journal of the New Zealand Medical Association": Delayed Diagnosis of Steroid-Induced Colon Diverticulum Perforation; Delayed diagnosis of steroid-induced colon diverticulum perforation; Andreas T Kouyialis, M.D.; Oct. 10, 2003
- The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse; What are Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?
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