What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is the inflammation of small pouches that develop in the lower digestive tract, particularly the colon. Pressure from constipation can create these pouches, called diverticula, in areas where the tissue is weakest. Diverticula can be tiny, about the size of a pea, or much larger. They typically develop on the lower left side of the body in the S-shaped part of the colon called the sigmoid colon.
After age 40, diverticula are very common and may not require treatment. Having them present is known as diverticulosis. When they become inflamed or infected, you have diverticulitis.
Who Gets Diverticulitis?
There are several risk factors for diverticulitis.
- Age. Diverticulitis most often occurs in middle aged people. Men often develop it before age 50 and women after age 50.
- Obesity. If you are obese, you are more at risk of developing diverticulitis.
- Smoking. Smokers are more prone to developing diverticulitis than non-smokers.
- Lack of exercise. Regular exercise promotes healthy digestion and protects the colon. People with diverticulitis tend to be those who do not exercise regularly.
- Diet. A diet high in animal fat and low in fiber appears to increase the risk of developing diverticulitis.
- Medications. Steroids, opioids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and naproxen may increase your risk of getting diverticulitis.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Common symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- Pain or tenderness, often on the lower left side of the abdomen. The pain may be constant and persist for several days.
- Swelling or bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rectal bleeding
Treatment for Diverticulitis
Non-surgical. If you have uncomplicated diverticulitis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and a liquid diet while your bowel heals. In more severe or complex cases, you may receive antibiotics in the hospital. If an abdominal abscess has formed, it will need to be drained.
Surgical. If you need surgery for diverticulitis, your surgeon will perform one of two procedures.
- Primary bowel resection. Your surgeon takes out the damaged portions of your intestine and reconnects the healthy segments. This can be done as an open surgery or as a minimally invasive (laparoscopic) procedure. After the surgery, you will be able to have bowel movements normally.
- Bowel resection with colostomy. In some cases, inflammation from diverticulitis is so severe that it is not possible to rejoin the colon and rectum. If this happens, you will need a colostomy. To perform a colostomy, your surgeon creates an opening in your abdominal wall, called a stoma, and attaches your healthy colon to it. A bag is connected to the stoma on the outside of your body. Waste from bowel movements passes through the stoma into the bag. Once the inflammation has gone down, it may be possible to reverse the colostomy and reconnect the bowel.
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