Diverticular disease is most common in people over age 40 in the Western world and is believed to be caused by lack of fiber in the diet. More than 50 percent of Americans over age 60 suffer from diverticulosis or diverticulitis.
Diverticular disease is a condition in which small sacs form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, most frequently in the sigmoid colon (part of the large intestine). One of these sacs is called a diverticulum, and multiple sacs are called diverticula.
The presence of one or more diverticula in the intestinal tract is called diverticulosis. People with diverticulosis may not experience any symptoms and may be unaware that they are affected.
Diverticulitis is more serious than diverticulosis and occurs when one or more diverticula rupture or become infected. Those affected by diverticulitis are more likely to suffer symptoms and require treatment.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
The more common symptoms of diverticular disease are abdominal cramping, constipation and diarrhea. More severe symptoms, usually associated with diverticulitis, include colon obstruction, abscess and infection in the pelvis, and bleeding into the colon. Left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to other illnesses, such as bladder infection and peritonitis.
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are typically diagnosed through barium X-rays, sigmoid scopes or colonoscopy. In patients with possible abdominal infections, ultrasounds and CT scans can be used to find abscess in the pelvis.
Treatment and Prevention
Many suffering from diverticulosis experience no symptoms and do not require treatment. For mild symptoms such as abdominal pain caused by muscle spasms, anti-spasmodic drugs may provide relief.
Infections caused by diverticulitis require antibiotic treatment. Persistent bowel obstruction and abscess that don't respond to antibiotics may require surgery. Physicians often recommend dietary changes to help alleviate symptoms of diverticular disease. Avoiding foods such as nuts, corn and seeds can help to prevent formation of new diverticula. A high fiber diet can increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, possibly preventing development of new diverticula.