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 may increase the risk. Indeed, in Western societies, an estimated 10% of people over 40 eventually develop diverticulosis; the figure reaches at least 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. The increased pressure along with undigested food caught in these pouches can erode the diverticular wall, causing inflammation and possible 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:
- A series of contrast images from a CT scan or from X-rays that then are processed and viewed on a computer to see the intestines and surrounding tissue and bones
- 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 colonoscopy can injure your intestine. Instead, your doctor may recommend only 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, which is not usually done. 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.
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.
If you have several attacks of acute diverticulitis, your doctor may want to remove the affected section of the intestine when you are free of symptoms. You may also need surgery if intravenous therapy does not effectively treat an acute attack of diverticulitis. Whatever the treatment, the chances for a full recovery are very good if you receive prompt medical attention.
You should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily to prevent constipation. If you do become constipated, prunes or prune juice may serve as natural laxatives. Follow a low-fat diet; fat slows down the passage of food through the intestine.
During acute attacks of diverticulitis, stick to clear liquids or broths while diverticula are inflamed and sensitive.
During periods of remission, it may help to make the following foods, which are high in fiber, part of your diet: cooked vegetables, cooked fruits, and apples. Probiotics, found in yogurt, may also be helpful.