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What Is Diverticulitis?

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human intestines

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  • Once diverticula form in your colon, you have a condition known as diverticulosis. Only 5% of people 40 years old and younger have diverticula, but 65% of those ages 65 and older have these bulges
  • Most physicians would recommend conventional treatment methods for this illness, although many patients experience success with noninvasive, self-treatment techniques

The colon, the part of the large intestine responsible for removing waste from the body, weakens as you age. When you pass hard stools (usually brought on by a diet low in fiber), the walls of the intestine are subjected to increased pressure, which then leads to the formation of sac-like pouches called diverticula.1

Diverticula protrude from the normally smooth muscular layer of the colon. They are usually as big as a marble,2 and bulge out like weak spots in a tire.3 These formations are age-dependent. According to a study published in Digestive Diseases journal, only 5% of people ages 40 years old and younger have diverticula, but 65% of those ages 65 and older have these bulges.4

Once diverticula form in your colon, you have a condition known as diverticulosis. In the United States and other industrialized countries, diverticulosis affects half of all people over 50 years of age and nearly 70% of those ages 80 and above.5 However, only a small percentage who develop diverticula will experience symptoms and develop infections and complications.6

When Diverticulosis Worsens, It Can Become Diverticulitis

Diverticulosis causes very mild symptoms, but for most people, there are no symptoms at all. In fact, 80% to 85% of people with diverticula do not exhibit any signs at all.7

However, when these diverticula tear or become inflamed due to the bacteria in the stools, more severe, painful symptoms occur. This condition is then called diverticulitis. Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are the two conditions under the umbrella term diverticular disease.8

Health experts do not fully understand why some diverticula become infected, while others are untouched. One possible reason is that pressure or fecal matter over the diverticular sac causes an opening that allows bacteria to enter and infect the tissues.9

Diverticulitis is generally more problematic than diverticulosis, as it can cause severe symptoms, such as abdominal pain (usually on the left side), fever, nausea, vomiting, chills and a marked change in your bowel habits (either constipation or diarrhea). Diverticulitis can also lead to certain complications, including rectal bleeding and colon obstruction. Abdominal infections may also occur.10,11

Who Is at Risk of This Disease?

Men and women are equally affected by both diverticulitis and diverticulosis, although men experience it at an earlier age than women.12 Aside from aging, there are certain factors that may increase your risk of diverticulitis, such as being obese, being sedentary, consuming a low-fiber diet and smoking.13 Certain medications are also associated with diverticulitis, such as opioids, corticosteroids and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).14

Diagnosing diverticular disease can be done through physical examinations like blood tests, X-rays, digital rectal examination, colonoscopy or a flexible sigmoidoscopy.15 A CT scan may also be recommended if the patient’s symptoms are severe, as it can help determine if any abscesses, strictures or fistulas have formed.16

Most physicians would recommend conventional treatment methods for this illness, although many patients experience success with noninvasive, self-treatment techniques, such as changing their diet to include more fiber and drinking plenty of fluids to soften the stool.17

MORE ABOUT DIVERTICULITIS

Diverticulitis: Introduction

What Is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis Causes

Diverticulitis Types

Is Diverticulitis Hereditary?

Diverticulitis Signs and Symptoms

Diverticulitis Treatment

Diverticulitis Prevention

Diverticulitis Diet

Diverticulitis FAQ

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