Diverticulitis is the inflammatory stage of diverticulosis, a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects more than half of Americans over age 60 in varying degrees. Diverticulosis develops when small sacs or pouches form in walls of the colon. The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but gastroenterologists speculate that it is related to low-fiber diets, processed foods and familial history. Diverticulitis occurs when the inner lining of the large intestine becomes infected as a result of trapped fecal matter that accumulates inside the intestinal pouches.
People with diverticulosis may experience cramping and bloating in the lower abdomen, and in rare cases, blood in stool. In many cases, there may be no symptoms and the condition is only discovered during a routine colonoscopy; however, when diverticulosis progresses into diverticulitis, the symptoms usually present suddenly and intensify over the course of several days. Symptoms of diverticulitis can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, fever and/or chills.
Gastroenterologist Dr. Jorge Rodriguez explains how to differentiate between diverticulosis and diverticulitis, and says the best way to prevent diverticulosis from becoming diverticulitis is to increase the fiber in your diet.
“Every day, if you can’t count on yourself to have a high-fiber diet, start off with a fiber supplement,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, the first treatment is usually antibiotics to reduce the inflammation. If this method is ineffective, surgery may be required to excise the infected portion of the colon.
“If the surgery occurs high up [in the large intestine], you can connect the colon. Only when it occurs really far down by the anus or by the rectum, and there’s nothing to connect it to, then you have to bring the colon out and you have a colostomy bag. And that’s something that’s permanent,” Dr. Rodriguez explains.
“We may not always be able to control whether or not we have diverticulosis, the little pouches, but we do have some say in how often those become inflamed,” E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork adds.
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