Diverticular Disease

Diverticular disease affects the large intestine (colon). There are two conditions that make up diverticular disease – diverticulitis and diverticulosis. Diverticula (pouches) form as a result of increased pressures in the colon. Having these pouches present in the colon is a condition known as diverticulosis. Often there are no symptoms with diverticulosis. Sometimes you may experience nausea, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Diverticulosis may occur as a result of not enough fiber (roughage) in your diet. Fiber causes stools to retain more water, which increases their bulk and they become easier to pass. However, if one of these diverticula (pouches) becomes inflamed, the condition is then known as diverticulitis. Tenderness and pain in the lower left side of the abdomen is the most common symptom of diverticulitis. Also, there may be nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills. Diarrhea or constipation could also be present. You should contact your doctor if you have abdominal pain, if you notice a change in bowel habits over a period of two weeks or more, especially if you have bleeding from the rectum, or if symptoms of diverticulosis are present (nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea).

Most often a CT (Computed Tomography) scan is used to diagnosis diverticulitis. Having a CT scan is like having an X-ray. A CT scan is a “noninvasive” test, which means that no surgery is performed and no instruments are inserted into your body. It is a very accurate test to diagnose this disease.

The treatment depends on how bad the symptoms are and if there is an infection present. Diverticulitis is a disease that is controllable. There is optimism for a great percentage of individuals who suffer from this disease. For some, treatment may be just a change in diet, while for others it may require surgery. If this is your first episode of diverticulitis, it is usually treated with “bowel rest.” This means you will only have liquids until you start to feel better. If you have an infection, you may be given antibiotics. However, if diverticulitis doesn’t get better and attacks continue or problems persist like long-lasting pain, surgery may be necessary. Fewer than 6 out of 100 people with diverticulitis need surgery. Surgical treatment involves removing the diseased part of the colon and reconnecting the remaining part.

You may require surgery if your attacks are severe or frequent. Surgery may also be recommended if there is a complication from a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal connection between two structures in the body like the colon with the bladder. An infection or inflammation can cause a fistula to form. Surgery is needed if an infected pouch (diverticulum) ruptures and its contents spread into the abdominal cavity. It is also necessary if the colon becomes blocked or if an infection has spread through the blood to other parts of the body. Severe bleeding that cannot be controlled by any other means also warrants surgery.

If you have surgery for diverticulitis, you can expect to remain in the hospital from 4 to 8 days after surgery. You will not be permitted to eat or drink for a few days. You may have a tube placed in your stomach through your nose to suck out air and stomach juices. You will maintain a soft food diet for anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after surgery.

Doctors believe diets that are high in fiber can help prevent diverticular disease. Your body does not digest fiber. As a result, fiber remains in the colon and absorbs water, which means stools are softer, easier to pass, and this also helps prevent constipation. When you are constipated, you have to strain to pass stool. Straining may cause the diverticula (pouches) to form in the colon creating the condition known as diverticulosis. If bacteria get trapped in the pouches and they become inflamed, then diverticulitis can occur.

Adding more fiber to your diet, exercising, and drinking more water each day can help prevent diverticulitis. Foods that are rich in fiber are slowly digested, which helps to promote normal bowel function. Another benefit of fiber is that it fills you up, but is not absorbed by the body so the amount of calories and fat in your body are reduced. Fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables are foods that are recommended. Also, it is valuable to keep a journal to record your daily intake of fiber. Recording the amount of fiber you take in each day will help you make the changes you need to reach the prescribed amount. Studies have shown that maintaining a written record of your diet greater increases your chances of success.