Diverticulosis is a disease characterized by the development of open "pockets," called diverticula, in the colon wall. This happens frequently with old age, affecting half of Americans by age 60. The simple presence of these pockets is referred to as diverticulosis, and when that is accompanied by pain and inflammation, it is called diverticulitis.
The "pockets" that occur with diverticulosis are actually areas where the lining of the colon bulges outward. Researchers aren't sure why this occurs, but the prevailing theory is that a lack of fiber in the diet, related to consumption of heavily processed food, is one of the major causes of the disease. Low fiber intake can lead to constipation and muscle straining to pass stool, and the straining can cause diverticula to form. If the stool or bacteria get caught in the "pockets," that could result in diverticulitis.
Symptoms of Diverticulosis
People with diverticulosis sometimes have no symptoms; others may experience some mild abdominal pain, bloating and constipation. About 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis get diverticulitis, which is characterized by increased pain, vomiting, nausea, fever, chills and changes in bowel habits. Over time, diverticulitis can lead to rectal bleeding, perforation and blockage of the colon.
Prevention and Treatment
To prevent diverticulosis or treat mild cases of the illness, the primary recommendation is to add fluid and fiber to the diet. This can be accomplished by eating more beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Supplemental fiber in pill or powder form may also be an option where needed, but it’s best to ask a health care provider about this.
Diverticulitis may require a treatment of pain relievers, oral antibiotics, bed rest and a liquid diet for a few days until the consumption of food can resume. Severe cases may require a hospital stay and IV treatments, and some cases may require surgery to treat the diverticulitis.
SOURCES: American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons; U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases