The colon, which is also known as the large intestine, is where waste material is stored until it is eliminated. With advancing age, owing to the weakening of the walls of the large intestine, the pressure of the waste material causes the formation of sacs or bulging pockets on the intestinal walls. These sacs are called diverticula. Diverticulitis can also be caused due to a low-fiber diet which forces the colon to work harder to push stool out of the body. The pressure required to push the stool may result in the formation of a small pouch or bulge. This bulge is usually seen around weak spots developed on the large intestine.
Although diverticula may occur throughout the large intestine, they usually form at the sigmoid colon - a region located at the end of the left colon. When the colon is affected by diverticula, the condition is referred to as diverticulosis. It has been noted that approximately 10% of Americans are affected with this condition.
When the diverticula become infected and inflamed, the condition is known as diverticulitis. Research points out that about half the population after the age of 60 are affected with this condition. Although physicians are not quite certain why the infection occurs, it is surmised that it could be caused due to bacteria infecting stool caught in the diverticula. A diverticulitis attack can develop all of a sudden, without any warning.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Diverticulitis?
Most people who have diverticulosis have no symptoms or very few of them. The condition, in fact, is usually discovered incidentally when people get tested for other intestinal problems. Only 20 percent of people affected with diverticulosis are said to develop symptoms associated with it. The commonest symptom is abdominal pain. Following are some of the commonly observed symptoms linked to the difficulty in passing stool through the left colon when afflicted by diverticulitis.
- Fever and chills
- Abdominal cramping
- Tenderness and pain in the lower left side of the abdomen
- Formation of pus filled abscess
- Obstruction in the colon
- Bacterial infection of the abdominal cavity due to rupturing of the colon, known as peritonitis
- Bleeding within the colon
When there is stool erosion into a blood vessel at the lower part of a diverticulum, it leads to diverticular bleeding. Red, maroon, or even darker clots pass through the rectum without any abdominal pain. Although rare, blood clots may also be black in color when there is bleeding in the right colon. The bleeding may be intermittent or continuous, and may last for several days. Those who have symptoms of active bleeding are generally hospitalized in order to monitor the condition. They are given intravenous fluids in order to maintain the blood pressure. Those who have moderate to severe loss of blood are usually given blood transfusions.
Rarely, if there is severe and accelerated bleeding, there could be a drop in the blood pressure, leading to shock, dizziness, as well as loss of consciousness. In most cases, there is spontaneous stoppage of the bleeding, and patients are discharged after a few days. However, if the bleeding is severe and persistent, the bleeding diverticula is removed surgically.
This condition can be diagnosed with the help of a blood test. X-ray and CT scan may also be done to confirm the blood test. Treatment is done in accordance with the severity of the infection. Usually, the doctor will prescribe a few antibiotics. Surgery is necessitated only in severe cases.
How can Diverticulitis be Prevented?
This condition is often caused due to unhealthy bowel hygiene. Working towards regularizing the meal timings helps in regularizing bowel movement. Drinking a lot of water and consuming a high-fiber diet (that increases the bulk of excreta) help avoid constipation. This could help in preventing the formation of further diverticula or an exacerbation of the condition.
Once diverticula are formed, they become permanent. There is no treatment to prevent the complications that arise from the diverticular disease as of today. If you do have diverticular disease and you suddenly develop abdominal pain, chills, or fever, it is advisable to get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.