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What is Diverticulitis
Diverticulitis PDF Print E-mail

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Diverticulitis results from a common condition called diverticulosis.  Diverticulosis will generally occur in people over 40. It begins when small, bulging pouches (diverticula) begin to form in the digestive tract.  The diverticula form when the muscles of the colon wall have to work overtime to deal with harden stools or lack of bulk in the diet.  The muscles become weaken and lose their elasticity.  This will cause small pouches in a person’s colon (also known as the large intestine) to protrude through delicate areas in the colon walls, very similar to an inner tube that pokes through weak places in a tire. Each pouch is called a diverticulum. 

In the United States, more than fifty percent (50%) of people older than 60 have diverticula, and by the age of 90, virtually everyone will have developed some diverticula. Most diverticula measure about 3 mm to just over 3 cm in diameter. Larger diverticula, termed giant diverticula, are quite infrequent, but may measure as large as 15 cm in diameter.  Diverticula can develop in other places such as your stomach, esophagus, or small intestine, most arise in the large intestine. Often, these pouches do not cause any problems and you many never even know you have them until…..

Inflammation or infection occurs in the pouch resulting in severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and noticeable changes in your bowel routine.

The primary cause of the infection is when constipation occurs and small bits of feces become trapped in the diverticulum pockets.  Food can also become trapped in these pockets making wonderful breeding ground for bacteria.  Signs of diverticulitis can range from minor inflammation to a massive infection; fortunately this only seems to occur in about 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis. 

First and foremost pay attention to these symptoms of diverticulitis:

  • abdominal pain
  • tenderness around the left side of the lower abdomen
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • chills
  • cramping

The more severe the infection, the more severe the symptoms and complications will become.  Acute cases of diverticulitis can eventually lead to bleeding, infection, perforations, tears, or blockages and possibly death. 

Please contact your doctor with any of these signs and get checked out right away.  These symptoms can also be confused with other causes of abdominal pain such as appendicitis, pelvic inflammatory disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

Mild cases of diverticulitis can be treated with rest, changes in your diet and antibiotics. But more serious cases of diverticulitis may eventually result in a surgical procedure to remove the affected area of your colon.

Most people with diverticulosis will probably never develop diverticulitis. You can help prevent diverticular disease by including a diet high in fiber and  getting a moderate amount of physical exercise.

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