The Link Between Smoking and Diverticulitis

The Link Between Smoking and Diverticulitis

Diverticula are little outpouches that form in the weak spots of your colon’s walls. When you’re born, your colon’s lining is smooth and pouch-free. But by the time you’re 60, if you live in a Western country, you’ll probably have at least one and possibly a few dozen diverticula. 

Vegetarians tend not to develop diverticula, possibly because their diet tends to be heavier in fiber than those of carnivores. Fiber helps digested matter and feces move through the colon more easily and in larger portions. A low-fiber diet leads to smaller stools that may cause unequal pressure within the colon. 

But a low-fiber diet isn’t the only risk factor for diverticula and subsequent diverticulitis, a painful infection in the diverticula. Smoking raises your risk for diverticulitis. In fact, in one study of patients with severe diverticulitis, 49% were smokers. Diverticulitis also tends to occur at younger ages in smokers than nonsmokers. 

At Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford, we diagnose and treat diverticulitis at our Bloomfield, South Windsor, and Plainville, Connecticut, offices. Our colorectal experts want you to take your colonic health seriously, so you avoid painful bouts of diverticulitis and other diseases of the colon. That means putting away the cigarettes for good. Here’s why.

Smoking dehydrates your organs

You’ve probably heard about “smoker’s lines” — those little vertical wrinkles that appear around the mouths of smokers. That makes sense: If you pucker your mouth repeatedly to drag on a cigarette, over time those lines become permanent. But, if you want to be accurate about what kinds of “lines” smoking creates, you’d have to say “all of them.”

Smoking dehydrates your skin, which is your body’s largest organ. But it also dehydrates every other organ and tissue in your body. That includes the blood vessels that feed your colon. And it includes your colon, too. 

When your colon becomes dehydrated, it’s just like dehydrated skin. It’s thinner, more fragile, and more easily damaged. If you want to get an idea of what your colon looks like after decades of smoking, compare the faces of nonsmoking and smoking twins. What shows up on their faces is also going on in every organ, including their colons. 

Nicotine degrades colonic muscle tone

Cigarettes are filled with nicotine. Nicotine is known to relax the smooth muscle throughout the gastrointestinal tract by releasing a molecule called nitric oxide. 

Nicotine reduces the tone and actions of the smooth muscle within the sigmoid colon, too. Without tone and with reduced activity, the colon doesn’t contract as regularly as it should. Nicotine also reduces the activity of nerves in the colon. However, nicotine doesn’t seem to affect muscle tone or nerve activity in the rectum. 

Get treatment and control risk

If you have diverticulitis, you’re probably in intense pain. Often the pain manifests in the lower left abdomen, but it can sometimes be felt in the right abdomen, too. Minor bouts of diverticulitis may respond to a course of antibiotics and painkillers. Severe disease, however, may require surgery.

As long as your disease is relatively mild, you can reduce your risk for surgery and for further bouts of diverticulitis by changing your lifestyle habits now. If you have severe disease, you’d also benefit from taking the following steps:

Don’t ignore pain in your abdomen or gut. If you’ve been told you have diverticulitis, or if you suspect you have it, contact our experts at Colon and Rectal Surgeons of Greater Hartford for treatment today. Call our friendly, discreet team at 860-242-8591. Or, schedule an appointment online.

You Might Also Enjoy...

My Fecal Incontinence Is Embarrassing: Can You Help?

If you have fecal incontinence (FI), you may be afraid to enjoy your life in public. Losing control of your bowels — whether that involves a small amount of stool or mucus, or a large amount — is embarrassing and uncomfortable. You can get help.

Are Polyps a Health Threat?

You’re considering annual fecal tests rather than a once-a-decade colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer But your doctor removes abnormal growths — such as polyps — during a colonoscopy. A fecal test can’t do that. Is polyp removal important?

Why Do I Have Anal Pain?

Pain in your anus could be more than a pain in the neck. Anal pain may be due to a benign condition or it may be the sign of something seriously wrong. Find out why you have anal pain and what you can do about it.

Lifestyle Tips for Diverticulitis

If you've been diagnosed with diverticuitis, your intestines are full of little pouches called diverticula that can become inflamed or infected and cause intense pain and other disruptive symptoms. With care and planning, you can minimize flares.

Understanding Your Risk for Pilonidal Disease

Pilonidal disease isn’t well known, but it’s not uncommon. In fact, if you have hair in your buttocks area or sit a lot for your job, you’re at risk for this painful cyst. Without treatment, pilonidal disease causes infections and can lead to cancer.

Foods that Support a Healthy Colon

When your colon is healthy, you don’t give it a thought. But the moment something goes wrong with your colon, you wish you’d paid more attention. Keep your colon healthy and pain-free by adjusting what you eat.