Diverticular disease involves small pouches that can form in the colon. These pouches, called diverticula, can occur naturally as people age. When a person develops diverticula, the condition is called diverticulosis.
Diverticular disease involves small pouches that can form in the colon. These pouches, called diverticula, can occur naturally as people age. It’s thought that a low fiber diet may contribute to the development of diverticula, although the actual cause is simply not known.
When a person develops diverticula, the condition is called diverticulosis. About 10 percent of Americans over the age of 40 have diverticulosis, and the condition becomes more common as people age. In fact, it’s estimated that about half of all people older than 60 have diverticulosis.
In most cases, people with this condition don’t have any related discomfort or symptoms. There are, however, three complications that are associated with diverticulosis. First, areas of the colon can become narrow, leading to pain and constipation. Second, bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract can occur. And finally, the diverticula can become infected, leading to a condition called diverticulitis.
In diverticulitis, the diverticula, or pouches, become inflamed and infected. The inflammation may begin when bacteria or stool are caught in the diverticula, which can lead to infection.
The most common symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain. Usually, the pain is severe and comes on suddenly, although it can also be mild and become worse over several days. Other symptoms include cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills.
It’s important that you contact your provider immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Because diverticula by themselves usually don't cause symptoms, diverticulosis is often diagnosed during routine screening exams for colorectal cancer, such as colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Diverticulitis, on the other hand, is usually diagnosed during an acute attack. Because abdominal pain can indicate a number of problems, the provider will work to rule out other causes, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis. The provider may check a patient's abdomen for tenderness and use blood tests to check for elevated white blood cell counts, which are a sign of infection. Imaging tests, such as CT scan, can provide images to diagnose diverticulitis and help providers locate the inflammation.
An attack of diverticulitis can develop suddenly and without warning. Most cases of diverticulitis can be managed as an outpatient with antibiotics, however, if the infection isn’t treated, there can be severe complications such as rectal bleeding, intestinal obstructions, abscesses, or the formation of fistulas.
These complications can lead to serious illness and hospitalization if not treated promptly.