The Facts about Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

If you’re struggling with abdominal cramps, gas and diarrhea alternating with constipation, you may be one of many people suffering from diverticulosis.

Diverticulosis, a condition in which small pockets or pouches extend out from the inside lining of the large intestine, is very common in people over age 40. In fact, at least one-third of all Americans over age 45 and more than two-thirds of those over age 60 have this condition. Diverticulosis can be present in the intestines for years and never be discovered unless you have a colonoscopy or barium enema X-ray.  Often, people experience no symptoms from the condition and only discover it when they are having an unrelated medical treatment in or around the intestine. However, well over ½ of people with diverticulosis will experience at least mild symptoms from the disease.

This odd-sounding condition may cause mild lower stomach discomfort which usually is not serious. In severe cases, bleeding may occur from the pouches, but this symptom is not common. However, diverticulosis can lead to a more serious condition, diverticulitis, which occurs when the pouches become infected, causing fever and moderate to severe lower abdominal discomfort.  Diverticulitis can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping with or without fever — symptoms similar to those experienced with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Only 20 percent of patient cases with diverticulosis advance to diverticulitis.

The exact cause of diverticulosis is still not completely understood. Doctors suspect that the pouches may be caused when colon muscle spasm creates pressure inside the colon which causes small weak spots in the intestine walls to balloon out (herniate), causing the pouches. The actual diverticulum may measure up to ¼ inch in size so they are small but sometimes significant! The walls of the large intestine grow thicker with age, which may be one reason for the added pressure incurred during a bowel movement. Other contributing factors could be stress, irritable bowel or not enough fiber in your diet, which causes the intestine to work harder during digestion.

Once formed, diverticula are permanent, and treatments are mainly dietary. To reduce the risk of developing diverticulitis, people with diverticulosis should eat a high-fiber diet that includes whole grains, fruits and leafy vegetables. It is also beneficial to drink plenty of water and exercise regularly. Recent research indicates that consumption of nuts, seeds and corn does not increase the risk of diverticulosis or diverticular complications as had been commonly believed. So it is safe to try those foods and if they do not cause symptoms, a small to moderate amount is fine.

Patients experiencing abdominal pain from diveriticulosis may benefit from anti-spasmodic drugs. Medication may also be prescribed to help control stress, reduce bloating and stomach problems or relieve diarrhea and constipation. If the condition advances into diverticulitis, bed rest, antibiotics and even hospitalization may be required.

The symptoms of diverticulosis – gas, stomach cramps, pain and diarrhea alternating with constipation – are also common in other, sometimes serious diseases. If you’re suffering from these symptoms, contact us so that we can properly diagnose and treat the source of your problems.