Diverticular disease is a chronic condition that causes small, bulging sacs or pouches, to develop in the colon. You may have heard it called by other names such as Diverticulosis or Diverticulitis; however, these two medical terms do not define the disease itself. Diverticulosis refers to the individual pouches in the colon that cause no symptoms. Diverticulitis is the inflammation or infection of those pouches in the colon.
There is no specific cause for this condition but researchers believe eating a diet that does not have enough fiber in it can contribute to its development. Researchers noticed a connection among patients who ate a highly processed diet that is low in fiber (think junk food) and the likelihood of developing the disease. Some other studies have identified low levels of serotonin, smoking, certain medication, lack of exercise, and obesity as contributing factors to muscle spasms in the colon, causing diverticular disease.
In addition to being possible causes, low fiber diet, alcohol, cigarette smoking, and anti-inflammatory medications are also risk factors to developing the disease. Women over age 50 have a much higher risk than men of developing diverticular disease.
Patients who have diverticular disease may display many symptoms including:
- Abdominal pain (most often in the lower, left quadrant)
- Abdominal pain that comes on suddenly and gets worse over time
- Fever and chills
- Abdominal cramping
- A change in bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blood in stool
Diverticular disease varies in its symptoms and level of severity. There is no “one” right treatment that can tackle every aspect of this complex disease. Fortunately, many people experience few to no symptoms from diverticular disease. For those that do experience painful symptoms, diet can often reduce or eliminate them. Eating a diet high in lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and healthy grains and reducing processed foods is essential. Adding fiber supplements, probiotics, and prescription medication, as well as getting regular screenings can help ensure the condition does not get worse. If patients do experience complications from diverticular disease such as an abscess, perforation of the bowel, or fistula, they may benefit from specific antibiotics and a minimally invasive procedure.
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