Diverticular disease, or diverticulosis is a medical condition that causes tiny, pouch-like pockets to form in the lining of your digestive tract. These pockets, called diverticula, can occur anywhere, from your esophagus to your anus, but commonly appear in your large intestine. By themselves, they usually cause no medical problems, but sometimes they get infected or inflamed. This can lead to diverticulitis, a condition that can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea and fever and be a serious and potentially life threatening condition. If diverticulitis is suspected, you should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a GI doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Diverticulosis, however, is benign and fairly common, affecting half of all people older than 60 in the United States. Other risk factors include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of exercise
- A low-fiber diet
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Symptoms of Diverticulosis
Most people who have diverticulosis are unaware of it. It often causes no symptoms and does not affect the digestion process.
Causes of Diverticulosis
Diverticulosis is rare when diets are generally high in fiber, grain, fruits and vegetables, which has led scientists and GI doctors to conclude that a low-fiber diet causes or at least contributes to the condition. A low-fiber diet requires more pressure inside your digestive tract to push food along; years of this added strain leads to diverticulosis.
Most people with diverticulosis have no symptoms, so the disease is usually discovered by accident. Testing for another condition with a barium enema or performing a screening exam — such as a colonoscopy, for example — can uncover the existence of diverticula. Gastroenterologists like our doctors recommend regular colon cancer screening once you reach 45 years of age or earlying depending on risk factors. A regular colonoscopy also can detect diverticula.
Specialists like our doctors agree that the best way to treat diverticular disease is to prevent it from happening in the first place. The way to do that is to avoid constipation by eating a diet high in fiber and rich in fruits and vegetables. Such a diet makes it easier for your digestive system to do its job, thereby preventing constipation and leading to a healthy colon.
Once diverticula form, however, they do not simply disappear by themselves. Most likely, if you have diverticulosis, you won’t have symptoms or need treatment. If you do have symptoms , the first treatment plan often is to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. An alternative treatment is a supplemental fiber product that comes in pill, powder or wafer form.
Diverticulitis is a more serious condition that causes localized abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea, fever, vomiting, chills or constipation. While our GI doctors may treat a minor case with oral antibiotics, a more advanced case may require a hospital stay and intravenous antibiotics. If you suffer multiple cases over time, surgery may be necessary to remove the affected portion of your colon. Following an episode of diverticulitis, a colonoscopy is recommended for evaluation to exclude any underlying mass lesions. Visiting your gastroenterologist will allow them to offer you an individualized treatment plan.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a GI doctor or gastroenterology specialists about your specific condition. Only trained, experienced GI specialists like our doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
As best in class NYC gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. For more information about Diverticular Disease or to schedule an appointment with one of our GI doctors, please contact our Union Square/Chelsea, Upper East Side or Midtown NYC offices.
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