Diverticulosis: Causes – Symptoms – Treatment

Diverticulosis or diverticular disease doesn’t seem to be a problem among people in Asia and Africa, but is common in the Western World. Diverticulosis occurs when the colon develops small pouches in the lining of the intestinal wall, which bulge out from weak spots. Usually, these pouches or diverticula don’t cause a problem and are symptomless in 80 percent of the people who have them. But the other 20 percent may develop serious medical complications when the marble-sized pouches become infected, create blockages or develop perforations, which cause a condition called Diverticulitis. Often Diverticulosis is discovered when tests are done for other medical problems since the condition is painless. When diverticulitis occurs the pain can become quite severe and require hospitalization.

Causes of Diverticulosis:

How Diverticulosis Forms:

Although it is not completely understood, many doctors believe that the small pouches form when pressure from the colon contractions push against the intestinal walls in weaker areas. As people age, the rates of occurrence rise dramatically from 10 percent in 40 year olds to 50 percent in 60 year olds and almost all 80 year olds have developed it. This may occur because the walls of the colon grow thicker with age, and more and more force is required to move the stool along. Another cause of diverticulosis is thought to be a lack of adequate fiber in the diet, causing stool to be small and hard, needing greater effort by the colon to move it forward. Once a diverticulum (a small pouch) develops, it is permanent, and doctors are not sure what exactly leads to the inflammation or rupture of the diverticula. It was once thought that eating nuts, seeds, and corn contributed to the inflammation of the Diverticula; however, recent studies have failed to find a connection. One theory is that fecal matter becomes entrapped in them, while other doctors speculate that the blood supply is reduced by an obstruction in the narrow opening of the diverticulum, or the small pouches just break down as you age with the continuing pressure from the colon.

Symptoms of Diverticulitis:

  • Sudden severe pain in the abdomen, usually on the left side. In some cases, moderate pain may grow more severe over several days
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Fever
  • Bloating

Treatment for Diverticulosis:

After diverticulosis has been diagnosed by tests such as a barium enema X-ray or a colonoscopy, your doctor will probably advise you to eat a high-fiber diet and drink more water to avoid constipation. Adding more whole grains, vegetables, and fruits plus fiber supplements such as Metamucil or Citrucel to your diet will help reduce your chances of developing diverticulitis. The treatment for diverticular disease is the same as for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Complications of Diverticulitis:

  • Severe bleeding from the rectum
  • Blockage caused by the narrowing and scarring in the colon
  • Abscesses occurring in the pouches
  • Fistula development
  • Peritonitis inflammation of the abdominal cavity lining - this is a medical alert and requires immediate care

Ongoing research may someday provide more answers to this affliction as it relates to cultures, and its response to medical intervention. At the present time, diverticulosis can best be controlled with thoughtful attention to diet and lifestyle, lessening the chances that you will develop the more serious complications from Diverticulitis.

written by Joy Seeman

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