Diverticulitis is a very common disease that affects the digestive system and typically occurs in the large intestine. Diverticulitis develops as a result of diverticulosis, a condition characterized by the presence of diverticula in the colon, which are pouches of the colonic mucosa and submucosa through weaknesses of muscle layers in the colon wall. Diverticulosis occurs when one or more of the diverticula becomes inflamed or infected. This common condition usually affects people older than 40 years of age. In most of the cases, the pouches associated with diverticulosis are present, but they do not cause any kind of problem. Patients typically become aware of this condition only when it progresses to diverticulitis.
Causes of diverticulitis
Diverticula normally forms on the weaker areas of the colon, when they cannot resist the pressure. When these places of colon give way under pressure, small pouches form, protruding through the colon wall. The inflammation probably occurs because the pressure in the colon breaks down the wall and makes diverticula prone to infection. The other possible theory suggests that sometimes diverticula traps fecal matter, which can lead to infection. Inflammation normally occurs when an obstruction in the opening of a diverticulum reduces the blood supply. For many years, doctors have believed that foods such as popcorn, nuts and corn may aggravate the diverticulitis. However, recent studies have found that these foods are not associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis. On the other hand, a lack of dietary fiber in the diet can make an individual more prone to developing this disease.
Symptoms of diverticulitis
Many symptoms can point out to diverticulitis. The symptoms may vary drastically depending on the extent of the infection and complications. Sudden and severe pain is one of the most prominent symptoms. The pain usually starts from the lower left side of the abdomen. However, some patients report they were first feeling very mild pain and that the pain gradually worsened over a couple of days. Sometimes, the pain fluctuates in the intensity.
Patients may notice changes in bowel habits, abdominal tenderness, fever, nausea and vomiting. Constipation and diarrhea are also common symptoms of diverticulitis. Less common symptoms may include bleeding from the rectum and bloating of the abdomen. The blood count will typically reveal elevation of the white blood cells in the sample of blood.
Treatment for diverticulitis
If the symptoms are mild, the treatment will typically include a liquid low-fiber diet and antibiotics. In more complicated cases, or if the symptoms are recurrent, doctors may recommend hospitalization, to eliminate the risk of bowel obstruction or peritonitis. Surgery may also be required to remove a perforation, abscess, fistula or recurring diverticulitis.