Diverticulitis occurs when small pouches, called diverticula, form on the intestine or colon wall and become infected or swollen. The most common area affected is the sigmoid colon (in the left lower portion of the abdomen), but it is possible to have diverticulitis anywhere in the intestine or colon.
Causes of diverticulitis
Diverticula gradually develop over time, but they do not always become problematic. Researchers estimate that over 40 percent of people over the age of 60 have these pouches in some portions of their intestines. The American diet – low in natural fiber and high in processed foods – may be responsible for this increase in diverticula.
Symptoms of diverticulitis
Inflamed or infected diverticula can cause symptoms ranging from mild abdominal pain to severe inflammation or bleeding. If not properly managed, diverticulitis can cause abscesses and fistulas (connections with other organs), blockages or tears in the colon. The most accurate test to determine the severity of diverticulitis is a computerized tomography (CT) scan.
Medical treatment for diverticulitis
For mild-to-moderate diverticulitis, specialists typically use antibiotics to decrease inflammation and minimize your symptoms. However, if your symptoms recur or worsen over time, your specialist may recommend surgery to remove the affected area.
Surgical treatment for diverticulitis
Surgery is very effective in preventing future episodes of diverticulitis. In severe cases that include a blockage or tear, or when antibiotics don’t work, surgery may be the first line of treatment.
Depending on the severity of the disease, surgery may involve removing the affected portion of the colon (colectomy). Or, in more severe cases, it may require temporarily creating an ostomy (a small opening in the abdominal wall) through which stool collects in a bag or pouch.
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