Diverticulosis is a condition in which there are pockets or projections in the colon. This happens very gradually over a long period of time. The pockets develop along the natural weak points in the bowel wall because of the pressure exerted within the colon. Since the sigmoid (lower) colon has the most pressure, this is where most diverticuli occur.
Click on the statements/questions below to reveal the answers to the causes, symtoms and signs of this particular disease.
Since it takes so long to develop, diverticulosis typically appears later in life. That being said, it’s not uncommon to see it among people in their 30s. Interestingly, it is uncommon in rural Africa and India where the diet consists mostly of unprocessed foods and grains with a high fiber content. Many of us in Western society could benefit from increased fiber intake.
Often, there aren’t any symptoms, especially when the diverticuli (pockets) begin to form. When it becomes very advanced, the lower colon may become fixed, distorted and narrowed. At this point, you may notice thin or pellet-shaped stools, constipation or occasional diarrhea. If it has reached this level, treatment is more difficult.
Complications are rare, but when they do occur, they can be serious. Complications include diverticulitis, bleeding from a ruptured blood vessel in diverticuli or perforation. While the most uncommon, perforation is the most serious complication. It occurs when bacteria escape into the abdomen where an abscess (or peritonitis) can develop. Surgery is usually required to correct this problem.
Like a balloon, as a diverticulum expands, it develops a thin wall compared to the rest of the colon. The colon contains many beneficial bacteria – however, if these bacteria seep through the thin wall of a stretched diverticulum, it can cause infection. This infection is called diverticulitis and requires treatment including antibiotics and resting the colon by avoiding food, and sometimes, liquids.
Symptoms of diverticulitis range from slight discomfort in the lower left abdomen to severe tenderness and fever. Your physician will typically diagnosis the condition with a medical history, physical exam and barium enema X-ray. To get a better view of your colon, your doctor may perform a flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
Diverticulosis may be preventable by incorporating fiber, bran and roughage into your diet. Today, there are many tasty cereals, breads and other foods that contain bran and fiber. Starting at a young age, you should aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day. Certain types of fiber retain large quantities of water, which provides a bulkier stool. Large, soft stools may help decrease pressure in the bowel over time. Although focusing on a healthy diet is best, there are some bulking agents that can be taken – generic names include psyllium and methycellulose.
Surgery may be needed to remove the diseased portion of the colon when diverticulitis occurs at an early age or when there are recurring episodes.