The development of small sacs or pouches within the walls of the colon is a common condition that many people experience. These small pouches, or diverticula, bulge outward from weak spots that are present in the lining of the colon. This occurs in a similar fashion to an inner tube that protrudes through weak portions of a tire. The presence of diverticula in your colon is considered a medical condition called diverticulosis.

Diverticulosis is a very common condition. In fact, half of all Americans between the age of 60 and 80, and most people over the age of 80 are affected by the condition. Often, patients are not aware that they have diverticulosis because the symptoms are mild, but may include mild cramps, bloating and constipation. While diverticulosis itself is not painful, it can lead to the development of diverticulitis which is a much more painful condition. Other complications from diverticulosis are rare, but the condition could lead to infections, tears, blockages or bleeding. Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis are referred to together as Diverticular disease.

The exact cause of Diverticular disease is not fully known. The condition may develop due to stool or bacteria that are caught in the diverticula. Also, high pressure within the colon that pushes against weak portions of the colon wall may be a cause of the condition. Dietary reasons are also attributed to the development of diverticular disease, such as an inadequate consumption of fiber. A diet that is too low in fiber may increase the amount of time that stool is present within the bowel and in doing so increases the amount of pressure in the colon.

When the diverticula in the walls of the colon become swollen or inflamed the condition is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis often forms from the existing presence of diverticulosis, but diverticulitis is much more painful and there is a great deal more symptoms associated, such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Cramping
  • Constipation
  • Rectal bleeding

Diverticular disease is often able to be treated at home with simple remedies, and this is especially true for diverticulosis. One of the best ways to treat the condition is to avoid constipation. For some this may mean briefly participating in a liquid diet to provide your colon with time to heal. Often, increasing the amount of fiber in your diet to the American Dietetic Association’s recommendation of 20 to 35 grams per day will lower the amount of pressure in your colon and will also help your bowels to pass with less difficulty. Your physician may even recommend a fiber supplement like Citrucel or Metamucil to help you reach the optimal level of fiber intake.

Treatment for diverticulitis is often more complicated than that for diverticulosis. Your physician will likely prescribe antibiotics for the infection and inflammation, and a liquid diet may be recommended to allow your colon time to heal. Occasionally, over the counter pain medications are recommended to help alleviate any discomfort. Severe attacks of diverticulitis require hospitalization. In some cases, diverticulitis leads to the development of abscesses. If this is the case the abscess will need to be treated and drained in a hospital setting. While less common, some patients do require surgery in the treatment of their diverticular disease.

If you are experiencing symptoms of diverticulitis or would like to learn more about diverticular disease please contact us to schedule an appointment.