Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

You may have been told after your routine colonoscopy (good for you for getting that done!) that you have diverticulosis or perhaps a family member or friend has told you they have it and you are wondering what it is and if you are at risk.  So what is diverticulosis and its cousin diverticulitis?  

Diverticulosis is a condition that occurs when the smooth lining of the digestive tract develops out-pouchings or pockets.  This is most often seen in the large intestine, also known as the colon.  It is very common in older people, and in the United States affects approximately half of Americans over the age of 60 years old.  Diverticulosis is often discovered incidentally during a colonoscopy because it does not cause typically cause symptoms.   

So why does diverticulosis occur? 

The pockets of the bowel develop because the musculature becomes weakened over time.  This weakness is thought to be related to a diet low in fiber and high in fat and red meat which slow the movement of the stool through the colon. This increases pressure on the bowel walls and pockets are formed.  Other factors that interfere with gut activity are decreased physical activity, obesity and smoking which all increase the incidence of diverticular disease.

There is no treatment for diverticulosis, so the best approach is prevention. 

The way to prevent diverticula from worsening or developing in the first place is to include lots of fiber in your diet.  The recommended daily fiber intake for a woman is around 25 grams.  Check out this chart to see some high fiber foods to be sure you are getting enough: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/high-fiber-foods/art-20050948.  Remember, wherever fiber goes, water needs to follow as fiber is a stool bulking agent so water is needed to help move stool through the bowels.  

Image: William Felker/Unsplash

By ensuring enough fiber and limiting red meat and fat in the diet, not only will this help prevent the formation of diverticulosis, it will also help prevent the main complication of diverticulosis: diverticulitis. 

Diverticulitis is what happens when a diverticula becomes infected or inflamed.  Symptoms of diverticulitis include abdominal pain, fever, chills, loss of appetite and can cause nausea, vomiting and a change in bowel habits.  Diverticulitis is diagnosed by physical exam and often a CT scan and lab work.  It is treated with a course of antibiotics. It is important to seek treatment for suspected diverticulitis in order to prevent serious complications like abscess formation and blood infection.

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