Diverticulosis is a condition in which small sacs develop in the colon, ballooning outward from the inside of the colon wall. A single sac is called a diverticulum, and if there are several they are called diverticula. They can occur anywhere in the colon, but are more common near the end or on the left side of the colon. Diverticulitis is an inflammation or infection of one or more diverticula.
Diverticular disease affects around 30 million Americans, and is more common for those over the age of 40. The risk increases as you age, and by the age of 80, it effects virtually everyone. In most cases there are no symptoms and diverticular disease is normally discovered while looking for something else – most commonly, during a screening colonoscopy.
This condition is rare in countries whose diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, so its prevalence in the US is believed to be due to a high fat, low fiber diet. Changing to a high-fiber, low fat diet is recommended for patients with diverticular disease, and a vast majority of those patients will not experience any complications.
Complications, while not common, can be quite severe and should be attended to immediately. Pain, fever and bleeding, or a combination of those, are likely to be a part of such complications. If you have diverticulosis and any of these symptoms occur, you should contact your physician immediately.
- Pain, fever, and changes in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or both). Nausea and vomiting might also occur. About 10% of patients with diverticulitis require surgery.
- Bleeding – occasionally diverticulum may bleed. You may notice a small amount of bright red blood or more severe bleeding. Any bleeding should be reported to your physician immediately.
- Perforation is a rare but life-threatening complication where the diverticulum actually ruptures or perforates allowing the contents of the intestine to leak in to the abdominal cavity. Pain accompanied by high fever should be reported immediately. Surgery is usually required to repair the perforation.
Diverticulitis is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics and a low residue diet. Extreme cases may require hospitalization and/or surgery. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment today with one of our experienced GI physicians.