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In the colon, some people have small pouches that bulge outward through weak spots. Diverticular disease is an inflammation or infection in the pouches, known as diverticula, which are located in the colon.
Diverticulitis occurs in 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis. Approximately half of all Americans ages 60 to 80, and almost everyone over age 80, have diverticulosis at some time.
The disease is common in developed or industrialized countries - particularly the United States, England, and Australia - where low-fiber diets are common. It is rare in countries such as Asia and Africa, where people eat high-fiber, vegetable diets.
Although not proved, the main cause of diverticular disease is believed to be a low-fiber diet. Fiber is the part of fruits, vegetables, and grains that the body cannot digest.
Both kinds of fiber help make stools soft and easy to pass, which helps to prevent constipation.
Constipation is the main cause of increased pressure in the colon, making the muscles strain to move stool that is too hard. The excess pressure caused by the straining makes the weak spots in the colon bulge out, forming diverticula.
Physicians do not know what causes the infection that causes diverticulitis, but believe it may begin when stool or bacteria are caught in the diverticula.
The following are the most common symptoms of diverticular disease. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of diverticular disease may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
In addition a complete medical history and physical examination, your physician may perform a digital rectal examination (DRE) to feel for tenderness, blockage, or blood. A stool sample, abdominal ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and x-rays may also be part of the diagnostic process.
Specific treatment for diverticular disease will be determined by your physician based on:
The American Dietetic Association recommends consuming 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Treatment may include increasing dietary fiber intake by eating foods such as the following:
In the past, avoiding foods with small seeds, such as tomatoes or strawberries, was suggested because it was believed that particles could lodge in the diverticula and cause inflammation. Consult your physician regarding which foods you should avoid.
Treatment for diverticulitis may also include:
Hospitalization may be required for acute attacks with severe pain or infection. Surgery may be necessary in some cases.