Understanding Diverticulitis -- Causes and Treatment
What Are the Causes of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?
Aging and heredity are primary factors in the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis, but diet also plays a role. Eating a diet low in fiber and high in refined foods can greatly increase the risk. Indeed, in Western societies, an estimated 10% of people over 40 eventually develop diverticulosis; the figure reaches 50% in people over 60. Diverticulitis will occur in about 10%-25% of those with diverticulosis.
Though it hasn't been proven, some researchers think that if you are often constipated and usually strain when you have a bowel movement, you may create enough pressure in the intestinal walls to weaken them and begin the development of diverticular pouches. Another school of thought is that not enough fiber in the diet is responsible. The lack of fiber leads to increased bowel wall strain to move stool through the colon. That then causes increased local pressures that lead to the formation of pouches at weak points in the colon wall. If the diverticula then become filled with fecal material or with undigested food, they are vulnerable to bacterial infection, which can result in diverticulitis.
How Are Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis Diagnosed?
If you think you have either diverticulosis or diverticulitis, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can perform tests to diagnose the conditions including:
Barium enema, a test in which the colon is filled with barium before an X-ray is taken to show an outline of the inside of the intestines
Colonoscopy, a test in which a flexible lighted tube is used to examine the inside of the intestines
If you have an acute case of diverticulitis, a barium enema and colonoscopy can injure your intestine. Instead, your doctor may recommend a CT scan, which can help confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis.
What Are the Treatments for Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis?
Once you develop diverticula, they are there to stay unless you have them surgically removed. You can minimize the chances of developing an infection by modifying your diet. If you have a mild case of diverticulosis, your doctor may have you eat a high-fiber diet to make sure the bowels move regularly and to reduce the odds of getting diverticulitis.
If you develop diverticulitis you need to see a doctor to make sure you recover completely and to avoid possible life-threatening complications. Diverticulitis is treated using diet modifications, antibiotics, and possibly surgery.
Mild diverticulitis infection may be treated with bed rest, stool softeners, a liquid diet, antibiotics to fight the inflammation, and possibly antispasmodic drugs.
However, if you have had a perforation or develop a more severe infection, you will probably be hospitalized so you can receive intravenous (through a vein) antibiotics. You may also be fed intravenously to give the colon time to recuperate. In addition, your doctor may want to drain infected abscesses and give the intestinal tract a rest by performing a temporary colostomy. A colostomy creates an opening (called a stoma) so your intestine will empty into a bag that is attached to the front of the abdomen. Depending on the success of recovery, this procedure may be reversed during a second operation.