Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Diverticulosis is a condition when small pouches, called diverticula, form in the wall of the colon. This becomes more common as people get older. About half of people over the age of 60 have diverticulosis. A low-fiber diet can exert more pressure on the colon during bowel movements, which can cause these pouches to form. Diverticulosis does not cause any symptoms until they become inflamed or infected resulting in diverticulitis. These two conditions together are called diverticular disease.

Symptoms of Diverticulitis

  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Cramping or constipation

Complications from Diverticulitis

  • Bleeding
  • Colon obstruction
  • Abscess
  • Fistula (an abnormal connection between the colon and another part of the body)
  • Perforation (puncture) through the bowel wall

Tests to Diagnose Diverticulitis

  • CT scan
  • Barium enema X-ray
  • Checking your white blood cells for signs of infection

Because diverticulosis does not cause any symptoms, it is usually identified when a test is being performed for colon cancer screening not for evaluations of digestive symptoms. Diverticulitis may be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to other intestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers.

Treatment depends on the severity of your condition. Mild diverticulitis can be treated with rest, changes in your diet and antibiotics. Adding more fiber to your diet can reduce the amount of pressure on your colon and reduce symptoms from diverticular disease. You may also be put on a liquid diet to try and give your colon a rest. Severe cases of diverticulitis may require hospitalization to receive antibiotics intravenously. Occasionally surgery is necessary.

Surgical Treatments for Diverticulitis

  • Primary bowel resection- during this procedure your surgeon removes the diseased part of your intestine and then reconnects the healthy segments of your colon
  • Bowel resection with colostomy- this surgery may be necessary if you have so much inflammation in your colon that it is not possible to reconnect your colon. During a colostomy, your surgeon makes an opening, called a stoma, in the abdominal wall. The unaffected part of your colon is then connected to the stoma, and waste passes through the opening into a bag.