Diverticulosis is a condition which affects your large intestine, more commonly referred to as the colon. Nutrition is digested and food is absorbed in the 20 feet of your small intestine – the long, thin portion of the bowel that begins at the stomach and ends in the right, lower abdomen. Following digestion, the liquid waste enters the 5 feet of the large intestine (colon) which ends in the rectum. Just above the rectum, there is an s-shaped portion of the colon called the sigmoid colon, and this is where diverticulosis usually occurs. A colon affected by diverticulosis has weak spots in the walls and these weak spots allow the development of outpouches. These hollow pouches on the colon are about the size of a large pea and are referred to as diverticula. The pouches form when pressure inside the colon builds up, typically due to constipation. A low-fiber diet is considered to be the main cause of diverticular problems. Diverticular disease is quite common – about 50 percent of all Americans aged 60+ have small, bulging pouches (diverticula) in their digestive system. When these pockets become inflamed or infected, the term diverticulitis is used.
The chance of developing diverticula increases with age, so that by age 50 between 20 and 50 percent of all people will have some diverticula, and by age 90 virtually everyone will. Fortunately, in 80-85 percent of patients, these pouches or diverticula cause no problems and patients don’t even realize they have them. However, symptoms may include mild cramps, bloating and constipation. It should be noted that these complaints are common to several other diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers, so they are not always attributable to diverticulosis. As stated above, if the pouches or diverticula become infected, discomfort around the left side of the lower abdomen is common. An attack of diverticulitis can develop suddenly and without warning. Doctors are unsure what causes the infection. It may be triggered when stool or bacteria are caught in the diverticula. In some cases they can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a marked change in bowel habits. The infection and irritation of nearby tissues within the abdomen may cause the abdominal muscles to spasm. About 25 percent of all patients with diverticulitis will have some rectal bleeding, although this rarely becomes severe. Diverticulitis is three times more likely to occur in the left side of the large intestine, and men are three times as likely as women to suffer with diverticulitis.
Treatment for diverticulitis focuses on clearing up the infection and inflammation with antibiotics, resting the colon with a liquid diet plus a pain reliever or a drug such as propantheline (Pro-Banthine) to control muscle spasms, and preventing or minimizing complications. Acute or repeated attacks with severe pain or severe infection may be serious enough to require a hospital stay and possibly surgery. For diverticulosis, your doctor may suggest that you eat more fiber, drink plenty of fluids and exercise regularly to help prevent the pouches from becoming infected or inflamed. A high-fiber diet appears to be the best way to prevent diverticular disease. You can increase the amount of fiber you eat by including more fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods in your diet. Build up consumption of fiber in your diet gradually – rapid fiber increase may result in gas, cramping, bloating or diarrhea. Studies have found that there are other benefits in having different kinds of fiber in a diet: it helps to protect against cancer of the colon and rectum, and assists in preventing heart disease and a number of other health problems. Foods containing fiber also tend to comprise nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E and selenium, useful in fighting cancer.