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Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis

Definition

A pouch that forms in the wall of the large intestine is called a diverticulum. When this pouch becomes infected or swollen, it is called diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis
diverticulitis
Infected pouches along the colon.
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Causes

It is not clear why the pouches form. It may be due to a constant build up of pressure when food moves too slowly through the bowel. This pressure increases and pushes along the sidewalls of the bowel creating pouches. Digested food or stool can become trapped in one of the pouches. This leads to swelling and infection.

Risk Factors

This condition is more common in people who are older than 50 years of age.

Factors that increase your chance of getting diverticulitis include:

  • Eating a low-fiber diet—fiber softens stools and makes them pass through the bowel more easily
  • Straining to pass a hard stool—causes increased pressure in the bowel
  • Previous episodes of diverticulitis
  • High-meat diet or high-protein diet
  • Defects in the colon wall
  • Chronic constipation
  • Smoking

Symptoms

Symptoms can come on suddenly. They vary depending on the degree of the infection.

Symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Tenderness—usually in the lower left part of the abdomen
  • Swollen and hard abdomen
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Poor appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Cramping
  • Rectal bleeding

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and rectal exam will be done. Finding the disease early is important. The pouch can break, releasing stool into the abdomen. This is a medical emergency that requires surgery.

Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Stool sample analysis

Images may need to be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound

After the inflammation subsides, other tests may be performed to examine the colon, including:

  • Barium enema
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Resolve the infection and inflammation
  • Rest the bowel
  • Prevent complications

Treatments include:

Prevention

The following recommendations may help prevent diverticulitis by improving the movement of stool through the bowel and decreasing constipation:

  • Eat a balanced, high-fiber diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Exercise regularly.
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