- What is diverticulosis?
- How does it occur?
- What are the symptoms of diverticulosis?
- How is it diagnosed?
- How is diverticulosis treated?
- Can I prevent diverticular disease?
What is diverticulosis?
This is the development of numerous tiny pockets in the colon, and is very common in those over 80 years of age but affects many people in middle age. As a person ages, pressure within the colon causes bulging pockets of tissue that push outwards from the colon walls. For most people, this condition is not troublesome. However complications occur when these pockets become infected, this is called diverticulitis, or rectal bleeding occurs.
How does it occur?
A low fibre diet can lead to small, hard stools which are difficult to pass. Over time, vigorous contractions in the colon push the inner intestinal lining outwards through cracks in the muscle wall. The pouches that develop are called diverticula.
What are the symptoms of diverticulosis?
Usually there are no symptoms except minor changes in bowel habits. If symptoms occur, they are likely to be:
- Pain in lower and left abdomen and abdominal cramping.
- Colon obstruction.
- When infection occurs: Fever, constipation, diarrhoea and bloating.
- In severe cases, when a diverticulum breaks into the bladder, bladder infection and passing of gas during urination.
- Collection of pus in the pelvis (abscess).
- Rectal bleeding.
- People with active bleeding may be hospitalised for monitoring.
- A blood transfusion may be required if bleeding is heavy.
- Surgical removal of the bleeding diverticula may be required if severe bleeding persists.
How is it diagnosed?
- A barium x-ray can be performed to visualise the colon.
- Ultrasound and CAT scan of the abdomen and pelvis may be required to detect collections of pus.
- In Diverticulitis if extreme tenderness of the stomach and abdomen is detected during a physical examination, it could be a sign of a surgical emergency, due to infection of the lining of the abdomen.
How is diverticulitis treated?
In most people rectal bleeding stops after a short period. If the bleeding returns or persists, an artery constricting drug, such as vasopressin, directed into the bleeding area may be required.
If the condition is severe, the doctor may want to rest your bowel. To do this you will ingest food intravenously (on a drip) for a couple of weeks while antibiotics deal with the infection.
In severe cases it may be necessary to remove part of your colon and connect the remaining colon. This is only an option when all other treatments have been explored.
Can I prevent diverticular disease?
Once the diverticula are formed they are permanent. Eating a high-fibre diet is helpful in reducing or preventing their formation as well as preventing infections in the diverticula, but nuts, corn and seeds should be avoided. Signs of diverticulitis such as fever, chills and abdominal pain warrant a visit to your doctor.
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