What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is a problem that can occur if you are having diverticula in your intestine. Diverticula are tiny pouches or weak areas that bulge out from the lining of the wall of the intestine. They are seen like small thumbs poking out of the side of the bowel.
When you are having diverticula in your intestines, it is called diverticulosis. When these pouches become inflamed, it is called diverticulitis.
You are more likely to have these pouches as you get older. About one-third of people over 50 and two-thirds of people over 80 have diverticulosis.
What is the cause of diverticulitis?
It appears that the main cause of diverticular disease is too little fiber in the diet. Fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest. Fiber helps make stools soft and easy to pass. It helps in preventing constipation.
When you are having constipation your muscles strain to move stool that is too hard. The high pressure causes the weak spots in the colon to bulge out and become diverticula.
Diverticulitis happens when diverticula become infected or inflamed. Doctors are not certain what causes the illness. It may begin when stool or bacteria are caught in the diverticula.
How is diverticulitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will have a look at your symptoms and examine you. You may have to go through the following tests:
- Sigmoidoscopy (exam of the rectum and lower end of the large intestine with a thin, flexible, lighted tube)
- Colonoscopy (test of most of the intestine with a thin, flexible, lighted tube)
- Barium enema or lower GI X-ray
- Blood tests
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Some of the symptoms may include:
- Having diarrhea some of the time and constipation some of the time
- Severe cramps in your lower left side that come and go
- Pain on the lower left side of the belly
- Chills or fever
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rectal bleeding
How is diverticulitis treated?
If you had an attack of acute diverticulitis, you may need to stay at the hospital for further treatment and rest. Your treatment may involve antibiotics, IV fluids, or nasogastric suction (a procedure that relieves pressure in the intestine).
If attacks are severe or frequent, you may need surgery. Two types of surgery can be done to correct the problem:
- Colon resection - The area of the colon with the infected diverticula is removed and the remaining ends of the colon are sewn back together.
- Colostomy - The colostomy is done to bypass the inflamed colon to help it heal. A colostomy attaches part of the healthy colon to an opening in the wall of the abdomen. Bowel movements then pass through this opening instead of the rectum.
They are collected in a bag outside the body. After the colon has healed, the colostomy can be reversed. This means that you will have a second surgery to reconnect the ends of the colon to each other and will no longer have a colostomy.