What is Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?

Diverticulosis and diverticulitis, together known as diverticular disease, occur in the large intestine. These diseases involve the presence of diverticula, which are pockets or bulges that protrude through weak spots of the colon's wall. Diverticulosis is simply the presence of diverticula in the colon. Diverticulitis indicates a progression in the disease in which the diverticula are inflamed. 

What Causes Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?

The consensus of the cause of the diverticular disease is a lack of fiber consumption. When one does not consume an adequate amount of fiber, an accumulation of waste may occur and result in constipation. The compacted matter places pressure on the colon's walls. This increased pressure causes your colon to form small pockets, the diverticula, in vulnerable areas. Scientists remain unsure of what causes inflammation of the diverticula. It is thought that the infection begins when bacteria thrive in the pockets where the stool sits trapped and stagnant. Another hypothesis is that the diverticula walls themselves begin to erode from the continual pressure of the stool impaction. 

What are the Symptoms of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?

Diverticulosis rarely results in any symptoms, but those who do experience symptoms often report: 

  • Tenderness in the abdomen

  • Constipation 

  • Bloating 

  • Mild cramping

Diverticulitis often yields more pressing symptoms and complications such as:

  • Increasingly intense abdominal pain

  • Lower back pain

  • Fever and chills

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Rectal bleeding

  • Potentially debilitating cramps

  • Constipation 

  • Diarrhea (rarely)

  • Blood in stool 

It is important to remember that the symptoms outlined above overlap with various gastrointestinal diseases. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, seek the opinion of a medical professional. 


How are Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis Diagnosed?

Several diagnostic tools can be used to determine whether you are suffering from diverticular disease. They include but are not limited to: 

  • Stool Sample: Your stool will be checked for the presence of bacteria or blood.

 

  • Sigmoidoscopy: An exam in which a flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted through the rectum and the sigmoid colon (where diverticula most often form) is observed.  

 

  • Colonoscopy: An exam in which a flexible tube with a light and camera is inserted through the rectum and the entire colon is observed. 

How are Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis Treated?

Diverticulosis alone typically does not require treatment. However, because diverticulosis can lead to diverticulitis, it is important to take preventative measures. You should consume more fiber through fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and beans. It may also be prudent to consume less red meat.  

Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the degree of the disease. Mild cases may clear up after a round of antibiotics and adherence to a recommended diet (sometimes a liquid diet.) Severe cases may require surgery to remove diseased sections of the colon. Surgery is considered for individuals who exhibit the following:

 

  • Continual rectal bleeding

  • Total blockage of the colon due to fecal impaction

  • Abscesses

  • Perforations resulting in bacteria/stool leakage into the abdominal cavity

  • Fistulas

Recovery time following surgery for diverticulitis varies from person to person but typically takes an average of two weeks. 

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