Diverticulitis, or diverticular disease, is an infected or inflamed pouch (or pouches) that have formed on the wall of the colon. When these pouches aren’t infected they are called diverticulosis and usually don’t have any symptoms. Physicians aren’t quite sure what causes these pouches to appear, but they believe that reduced fiber intake may be the cause. Without sufficient fiber, the colon has to work harder to push bowel movements, so this increased pressure could cause weak spots in the colon to develop pouches. If bacteria gets stuck in these pouches, diverticulitis may occur.
Besides a low-fiber diet, diverticulitis is also more common in seniors, those who smoke, those who are taking certain medications, and those who are obese.
Stomach pain is the most common symptom—especially pain that is felt when a person moves or pain that is specific to the lower left side of the abdomen.
Other symptoms include constipation, bloating, fever, lack of appetite, nausea, and occasionally vomiting. These symptoms may last for only a few hours or for many days. If the infection is severe, a person may also experience rectal bleeding.
Doctors can diagnose diverticulitis with x-rays, CT scans, and blood tests. Doctors may perform pelvic exams, pregnancy tests, or liver function tests to rule out other disorders before treating. Diverticulitis can be treated by introducing more high-fiber foods, like fruits and whole grains, in the diet and avoiding foods like nuts and seeds.
Doctors can also prescribe antibiotics or anti-spasmodic drugs, which prevent muscle spasms and pain. Bed rest, the use of heating pads, and a liquid diet may be necessary measures at first until a patient starts to feel better. However, if a patient doesn’t improve over time or has reoccurring symptoms, then surgery may be required to remove portions of the bowel.