What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is an inflammatory/infectious condition that primarily affects the large intestine. Diverticulosis is believed to affect as many as 50% of the population and is characterized by the development of small bulges in the wall of the colon. Patients with diverticulosis may have few or no symptoms. On the other hand, diverticulitis occurs when these bulges, known as diverticula, become inflamed or infected.
What causes diverticulitis?
While there is nothing that indicates that one particular thing leads to diverticulitis, the root cause seems to be fecal matter blocking the diverticula, leading to the inflammation and infection that characterizes the disease.
However, exactly what causes that blockage can vary between patients and some factors are believed to make your risk of developing diverticulitis significantly higher. These include:
- A low fiber diet.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Lack of vitamin D.
- Lack of physical exercise.
- Taking certain prescription and over the counter medications including regular use of aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). Opiate and steroid use has also been linked to an increased risk of diverticulitis.
- A family history of diverticulitis.
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Many people with diverticula remain asymptomatic. However, those with diverticulitis may experience :
- Pain/discomfort in the abdomen is usually felt on the left-hand side. It tends to come on when you eat and may worsen with a bowel movement.
- Mucus or persistent bleeding from your rectum.
- Constant and severe stomach pain. This is usually low down and on the left-hand side. People of Asian descent or women may experience right-sided diverticulitis.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Loss of appetite.
- Increased urge to urinate with a burning sensation.
(Please note that any rectal bleeding should be checked out by our doctor if only to rule out any serious underlying causes).
You should immediately call your doctor if you have any combination of the above symptoms. The first thing your doctor will do will be to take a history and perform a physical exam. The diagnosis may be confirmed by various tests, which may include:
- Blood tests
- Abdominal ultrasound / CT scan
- A colonoscopy which should almost never be done for acute diverticulitis due to the risk of perforation. However, if you are bleeding, a colonoscopy is appropriate.
In many cases, mild diverticular disease or diverticular spasms may be treated by both diet and lifestyle changes. Make sure you eat a healthy, balanced diet that has plenty of fiber, get enough exercise, and drink the recommended amount of water as this can help alleviate your symptoms. If you are increasing your fiber intake, you should do so gradually otherwise you run the risk of becoming bloated and uncomfortable.
If you are unable to eat a high-fiber diet, or you are suffering from constipation as part of your diverticulitis, you may be prescribed laxatives to help soften your stools and make them easier to pass. You may also be prescribed some stronger pain relief to help you cope with your stomach discomfort.
Diverticulitis may need to be treated with either antibiotic by mouth or for more severe cases, intravenous antibiotics. It may be necessary for you to be admitted to the hospital if either you do not respond to antibiotics or your case is severe.
Surgery may be recommended after two to three severe attacks that have required antibiotic treatment. The type of surgery performed is a colectomy (sigmoidectomy) which is often performed laparoscopically. Temporary or even permanent colostomies are rarely performed unless you have a severe perforation and are deathly ill. A colostomy is a situation in which after the resection of the diseased portion, the remaining end of the colon is brought out through the skin and your feces will travel into a bag.
If you have more questions about diverticulitis, or you believe you are suffering from the condition and would like the help of a professional, our experienced and discreet team are on hand to assist you. Please contact Laparoscopic Surgical Center of New York to learn more at 212-879-6677.