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Diverticulitis Showing Up in Young, Obese Adults

An illness typical in patients over 50 is now being seen in those in their 20s, experts say

SUNDAY, Oct. 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Acute diverticulitis -- a disease of the colon traditionally seen in people over age 50 -- is now being diagnosed in obese younger adults, a University of Maryland Medical Center study finds.

Acute diverticulitis is commonly related to a low-fiber diet. Increased pressure in the colon causes thin-walled out-pouches (diverticula) to develop in the bowel wall. This condition is called diverticulosis. Bacterial infection of these diverticula cause inflammation (diverticulitis) that can result in perforation of the intestinal wall and other serious complications.

This study included 104 patients in two age groups: 50 years old or younger and those older than 50 years.

The researchers found that abdominal obesity was present and more severe in 85.7 percent of the younger patients, compared with 77 percent of the older patients.

"There is clearly an association with abdominal obesity in these younger patients. Obese adults patients are at risk for this disease after 20 years of age," researcher Dr. Barry Daly of the medical center's radiology department said in a prepared statement.

"Because patients who get acute diverticulitis always have underlying diverticulosis of the colon, younger patients may be at increased risk for recurrent attacks of inflammation of these diverticula over the long term," Daly said.

"For physicians, it is important to add acute diverticulitis to the list of diseases that may cause acute abdominal pain in younger patients who come to the emergency room, especially if they are obese," he noted.

The study, published in the September issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, was prompted by an emerging patient trend.

"Over the past 10 years, I noted that many patients coming into the emergency room with CT findings of acute diverticulitis seemed younger than traditional teaching suggested, and often were obese," Daly said.

"We were seeing patients as young as their early twenties, though textbooks typically describe this condition as a disease of the over-50 age group."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about diverticulitis.

SOURCE: American Roentgen Ray Society, news release, September 2006
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