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Diverticular Disease

Symptoms and treatment of diverticulosis and diverticulitis

Diverticular disease (also known as diverticulosis) is a condition in which small "out-pockets" (called diverticula) inside the inner bowel push themselves through the outer wall of the large intestine or colon. Each diverticulum can range in size from 5 to 10 mm to 2 cm, and in extreme cases as high as 25 cm, and the number of diverticula can range from having one diverticulum to having hundreds.

When one of the diverticula becomes infected or inflamed, it results in diverticulitis. This condition occurs in approximately 10 to 25 percent of diverticulosis cases. Because the two conditions are so connected, they are often assigned the same treatments and preventative measures.

Diverticular Disease Causes and Symptoms

Diverticula are believed to form by increased pressure in the colon, which could be the result of constipation or colonic spasm. A diet that is insufficient in fiber and high in fat can result in both of these triggers.

Diverticulosis symptoms include bleeding and mild bloating, abdominal pain or cramping. Diarrhea and constipation may also occur. More serious symptoms include anemia, fatigue, shortness of breath and faintness. Diverticulitis symptoms, which occur as a result of diverticulosis, include abdominal pain and tenderness on the left side of the lower abdomen. Cramping and constipation may continue, and nausea and vomiting may also occur.

Diverticular Disease Treatment

Often, no medical treatment is necessary for diverticulosis. A diverticulosis diet that includes more water and fiber intake and removes foods associated with constipation is recommended. Surgery will only be performed if the diverticula are large or are bleeding frequently, or if diverticulitis has set in.

Treatment of mild diverticulitis includes antibiotics and a diverticulitis diet that promotes "bowel rest" (i.e., no food ingested, only fluids). In severe cases, surgery will be required to remove the diverticula or to address complications from the condition.

Conditions Related to Diverticular Disease

Other associated conditions to diverticulosis and diverticulitis include:

  • Peritonitis (a potentially fatal condition in which the peritoneum becomes inflamed)
  • Abscess (a collection of pus that swells and runs the risk of bursting and spreading infection)
  • Colon cancer

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