Large intestine or the colon is divided into ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon and the rectum. The function of the colon is to store and eliminate the waste material. Along with aging, pressure inside the colon leads to the development of bulging pockets of tissues (sacs) in the wall of the colon. These sacs are pushed outward from the colon wall. These bulging sacs of tissues are known as diverticula (singular being diverticulum). Though diverticula can be present over all parts of the colon, diverticula on sigmoid colon (part of the colon connected to the rectum) are more common. Sigmoid colon often contracts strongly as it pushes the waste material out through rectum. This increases the chances of diverticula on it. Development of diverticula on sigmoid colon is known as sigmoid diverticulosis.
Diverticula can be as small as peas. But they may grow slowly and may cause several problems. Those who suffer from constipation are more likely to develop diverticula. An intestine which has weakened due to gas, waste material, etc. is more likely to develop diverticula in its lining. What is diverticulitis? Inflammation or infection in one or more diverticula is known as diverticulitis. Injured blood vessels adjacent to growing diverticula can lead to diverticular bleeding. Outwardly pushed sacs in the intestinal wall may lead to blockage of waste, resulting in bacterial growth and infection. The infection can cause a hole in the wall of the colon and it may spread to the surrounding tissues in the abdominal cavity. Young adults who are obese and who follow a low fiber diet are at increased risk of diverticulosis. Studies show that those who smoke are more likely to develop diverticula on the colon. Excessive consumption of alcohol and drugs is also a main cause of diverticulosis.
Diverticulitis may exhibit severe symptoms but sigmoid diverticulosis without diverticulitis may not exhibit any symptom. About 10% of people over the age of 40 and 50% of people over the age of 60 have diverticulosis and they discover the fact incidentally during some other tests, performed for intestinal problems. Diverticula do not develop suddenly. They take years to develop. Thus, it may take years for symptoms to manifest. Symptoms are noticed when divericula start affecting the process of digestion and excretion. Then the disease is described as painful, inflammatory or bleeding diverticulosis, depending upon the severity of the symptoms.
Bloating, abdominal pain (which gets relieved after passing gas or bowel movement) and constipation followed by diarrhea are the symptoms of painful diverticulosis. Constipation, vomiting, nausea, abdominal swelling and pain, fever and chills, are the symptoms of inflammatory diverticulosis. Bleeding diverticulosis may exhibit symptoms like maroon colored stools with red blood clots, abdominal cramps followed by an urge for bowel movement, bowel problems, etc.
Mild sigmoid diverticulosis can be managed with diet but if the symptoms are severe, the person may have to undergo a surgery. Doctors remove the diseased part of the colon during the surgery. Those suffering from this disorder need to follow high fiber diet. They should include lots of fruits (with skin, edible seeds), vegetables, whole wheat, bran, whole grain cereal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils and soybeans), etc., in their diet. Foods rich in fiber prevent constipation and help lower the chances of developing diverticulosis. Fiber helps bulk the stool, it prevents drying and hardening of stool (keeps it moist) and it promotes easy passage of stool through the colon. If you have a problem in digesting any of these raw foods, you may cook them and then eat them. Diverticulitis diet recipes are easily available on the Internet. You should exclude the foods which seem to be difficult to digest. You should include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, as they help fight inflammation. Avoid high fat foods like meats, dairy products, processed/fast foods. Opt for lean protein and low-fat foods. Drink plenty of water and other healthy liquids like low-fat milk, milkshakes, soups, juices, etc., which promote easy digestion. Avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking helps improve the function of the digestive system. Along with proper diet, regular exercise aids digestion. No diverticulosis treatment is required if proper, healthy, high fiber diet is regularly followed. Doctors may prescribe pain killers and antibiotics to control the infection and the pain. Use of laxatives or enema should be avoided as far as possible. In case of severe diverticulitis or frequent attacks of diverticulitis, doctors may suggest 'partial splenectomy' (surgical removal of the affected portion of the colon).
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.