Diverticula are bulging pouches that form along your digestive tract on the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and most commonly in the large intestine. When these pouches become enlarged or inflamed, this leads to diverticulitis.
What's The Difference Between Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis?
Diverticulosis - the condition of having weak points and multiple pouches in the lining of the digestive tract. Alone, these diverticula will cause no problems or symptoms.
Diverticulitis - occurs when one or more of the small abnormal sacs of diverticula become inflamed or infected - commonly occurring in the large intestine or colon.
What Are The Causes of Diverticulosis?
While a single cause for diverticulosis hasn't been determined, a low fiber diet is most commonly thought to be the culprit. Low fiber causes stool to become hard and difficult to pass, resulting in constipation. The added strain on the colon and intestines may be the reason these diverticula (pouches) form.
Diverticulitis is caused when stool becomes trapped in these pouches.
What Are The Symptoms of Diverticulosis?
Diverticulosis (the forming of the pouches) may not have any symptoms. However, chronic cramping, constipation and bloating are signs you should see your doctor.
What Are The Symptoms of Diverticulitis?
- Pain that is often sudden, severe and located in the lower left side of the abdomen
- Less commonly, abdominal pain that may be mild at first and become worse over several days, possibly fluctuating in intensity
- Change in bowel habits
- Abdominal tenderness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Bleeding from your rectum (less common)
What Are The Risk Factors for Developing Diverticulitis?
Certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting diverticulitis, including:
- Being over 40
- Too little fiber, causing constipation and more strain upon the intestines
- Lack of exercise, though the reason for this is not understood
How Is Diverticulitis Diagnosed?
In addition to obtaining a complete medical history, including collecting information about diet and bowel habits, the following tests are helpful in diagnosing a case of diverticulitis:
- A blood test to determine causes of infections
- CT scan
How is Diverticulitis Treated?
Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the severity of the symptoms.
Treatment at home for pain is possible with rest, pain medication (prescribed by your doctor), and/or antibiotics.
More severe attacks of diverticulitis may require a hospital stay with IV antibiotics and a liquid diet, to rest the colon.
Surgery may be required in certain cases. Surgery is recommended when patients do not respond to resting the colon and antibiotics.
There are two different types of surgery that may be recommended for diverticulitis.
- Primary bowel resection - the diseased part of the intestine would be removed and surgically resected to a healthier length of intestine.
- Bowel resection with colostomy - This surgery would performed if the colon could not be rejoined with your rectum, due to too much inflammation.
What Are Some Complications of Diverticulitis?
Complications from diverticulitis include:
- Peritonitis - occurs when one of the diverticula pouches rupture and spills intestinal contents into your abdomen. This requires immediate medical attention.
- Rectal bleeding
- Blockage in the colon
- Abscesses - occur when pus collects in the pouches
- Fistula - abnormal passages between your intestine and another organ
Statistics do not show a link between diverticulitis and colon cancer, but your doctor may recommend more frequent cancer screenings, including a colonoscopy. Having diverticulitis may make diagnosing colorectal cancer more difficult.
Resources for Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis:
National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse: A division of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH), its mission is to increase knowledge and understanding about digestive diseases among people with these conditions, as well as their families, health-care professionals, and the general public.
The American College of Gastroenterology provides information on a wealth of digestive diseases and conditions, including diverticulosis and diverticulitis. The website also provides several digestive health tips that may help prevent these conditions from developing and/or worsening.
The Mayo Clinic website has a section devoted to digestive diseases and provides a sample diet that may be used to help treat diverticulitis.