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What is Diverticulitis?

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Diverticulitis is a condition that occurs when one (or more) of the diverticula in the digestive tract become infected or inflamed. The diverticula are tiny pouches that can develop in any part of the digestive system. They most commonly occur, however, in the large intestine.

When doctors discover that patients have diverticula, they are diagnosed as having diverticulosis. Many people actually have this condition and never know it because they are fortunate enough to never develop any associated problems. When problems do arise, the condition is then called diverticulitis.

Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include the following:

  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain – often times, this pain occurs suddenly and is quite severe. Most of the time, this pain occurs in the lower left abdomen. In some cases, the pain may initially be mild and become worse over a period of several days.
  • Constipation
  • Tenderness in the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Less common symptoms that may occur include rectal bleeding or bloating.

Causes

Everyone has some naturally occurring weak spots in the colon. When diverticula develop, it is because one or more of those weak spots has given in due to too much pressure. Researchers are still not entirely sure why diverticula sometimes become infected or inflamed, but they have been able to determine that the consumption of certain foods is not to blame.

In the past, doctors mistakenly believed that consuming foods such as corn, seeds, popcorn, and nuts led to the development of diverticulitis by becoming trapped in the diverticula. It has since been proven, however, that these foods do not contribute to the development of diverticulitis.

The risk factors that can contribute to the development of diverticulitis include:

  • Not getting enough exercise.
  • Obesity.
  • Aging – most people who develop diverticulitis are over the age of 40, but it can occur in younger people.
  • Not eating enough fiber – diverticultis is most commonly found in industrialized countries such as the United States where the average diet is high in carbohydrates and low in fiber.

Treatment

Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the severity of symptoms. Mild symptoms can usually be treated with a low fiber or liquid diet and a course of antibiotics. For people with severe symptoms or who have a greater risk of complications, more advanced types of treatment may be necessary.

  1. Home care – even some more serious cases may be treatable at home. Patients should get plenty of rest and should only consume a liquid diet for a few days (while the infection heals).
  2. Hospitalization – this may be necessary for patients who have a severe infection and are at risk of developing a bowel obstruction.
  3. Surgery- this becomes necessary for patients who have an abscess, perforation, or fistula. Surgical procedures may include a bowel resection or abscess drainage.

People with diverticulitis can help to avoid recurring problems by eating a diet that is high in fiber, exercising regularly every week, and drinking plenty of fluids.

By Lisa Pecos

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