Understanding Diverticulosis

What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is the condition of having one or more tissue protrusions along the digestive tract. They may appear anywhere from the esophagus to the sigmoid colon. A diverticulum is the term that describes single protrusion, and the plural term is diverticula. The distribution of these pouches follows no discernible pattern. Some people will experience multiple protrusions along the length of the colon, and other patients may only experience a single diverticulum. These protrusions of tissue are common at the sigmoid colon and along the length of the descending colon. Diverticulosis is often confused with diverticulitis, which indicates an inflammation in the affected tissue.

Who can get diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is more common in the elderly population than in people who are under 40 years old. This condition has been linked with certain other digestive problems. Asian and African populations tend to have low rates of diverticulosis. Some doctors have observed that populations who consume a diet rich in fiber are less likely to experience diverticulosis than populations that have low levels of fiber in their diet. Constipation can contribute to diverticulosis because of the strain on the intestines during difficult bowel movements. In addition, work activities that produce a lot of strain in the abdominal area, especially over extended periods of time, tend to exacerbate the development of this problem. All of these variables are used to determine whether a person may be susceptible to diverticulosis.

What causes diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis may develop when weak sections of tissue form along the walls of the digestive tract. Although the exact cause of this condition is not known, many doctors recognize that there is a substantial relationship between the weakened intestinal tissue and the protrusion of the intestinal wall. Constipation and other forms of abdominal strain may also contribute to the development of this condition.

What are the symptoms of diverticulosis?

It is possible to have diverticulosis without experiencing any symptoms. The pouches usually occur in the large intestine, but they may also appear at any point along the entire length of the digestive tract. An inner portion of the intestine may protrude through the weak outer lining, but the patient may remain unaware that this has happened for long periods of time. It is possible to have diverticulosis without suffering any pain or discomfort. Mild symptoms may include cramps, bloating or constipation; however, the person often does not associate any of these sensations with a medical condition. Some patients are unaware that they have the condition until an inflammation or a persistent pain drives them to seek medical attention. By this time, the ruptured diverticulum may cause significant pain or tenderness, and the condition will now be described as diverticulitis.

How is diverticulosis diagnosed?

Diverticulosis is usually diagnosed by a gastroenterologist. Patients often receive referrals from general practitioners during an annual exam or a test designed for an unrelated condition. The doctor may feel the need to refer the patient to a specialist at this point. If the gastroenterologist suspects diverticulosis, they may recommend a diagnostic procedure in which a small camera is inserted into the rectum. Confirmation testing procedures may involve the use of a barium x-ray test or a CT scan.

What is the treatment for diverticulosis?

Since diverticulosis is not considered an acute disease, the treatment for diverticulosis tends to focus on preventing the situation from getting worse. Preventing inflammation is very important, and many doctors recommend appropriate dietary changes at this point. Eating foods high in fiber may be sufficient for some people, but others will require dietary fiber supplements, which come in a variety of forms. In addition, some doctors may also prescribe medications to help facilitate healthy bowel movements. There are no corrective procedures associated with diverticulosis, but patient education is critical to prevent the condition from advancing into diverticulitis. Each person with diverticulosis should be aware of the potential for the protruding tissue to become inflamed or infected. If an infection occurs, it may require hospitalization; however, many minor inflammations can be treated with a simple regimen of antibiotics.

Are there any complications from this condition?

Having pouches protruding from the walls of the colon or small intestine is inherently risky. This risk is exacerbated if there is constipation or diarrhea. Small pieces of waste material may lodge inside one of the pouches, and the area could become inflamed or infected at any time. Bleeding may occur at this stage, and the condition of diverticulitis can be very painful. This inflammation may also lead to a fever. Some people also get chills, vomiting or nausea. It is possible for an abscess to form in the affected areas, and peritonitis may also develop as well. However, there are many other conditions that are associated with abdominal pain, so it is incorrect to assume that abdominal pain alone means that the diverticula have become infected. Doctors will rule out other possible causes of the abdominal pain. Other possible causes of acute abdominal pain may include food poisoning, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and other conditions.

What procedures relate to diverticulosis?

Many people still falsely assume that diverticulosis can be a precursor to cancer, but this is incorrect. There is no correlation between cancer and diverticulosis or diverticulitis. It is possible for one of the diverticulum to rupture, and this is called a bleeding diverticulum. If there is blood in the stool, a hospitalization may become necessary. A surgery or other medical procedure may be used to halt the cause of the bleeding, and this could include removing affected portions of the colon. A bleeding diverticulum is different from diverticulitis, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Blood transfusions may be necessary in some cases, and it is common for hospitals to administer intravenous fluids during related procedures. These procedures are selected based on the amount and the persistence of the bleeding. Most of the bleeding can clear up without medical intervention, so maintaining good communication with the health care provider is very important.