Diverticulitis occurs when small, bulging pockets - or diverticula - occur within the colon and become infected. In most cases a slight or micro-perforation occurs. The majority of the time, the healthy body confines the infection to a very small space, and with time and a course of antibiotics, the infection will resolve itself.
Dr. John L. Newman, a gastroenterologist with Anne Arundel Gastroenterology Associates, writes about diverticulitis.
* Diverticulosis, the presence of the pocket without infection, is very common as we grow older. Nearly half of Americans over 50 will have diverticulosis, and many will have no symptoms at all. They often will be diagnosed at the time of their screening colonoscopy.
The longer a person has the pouches, the greater the chance of getting them infected and hence, being diagnosed with diverticulitis. Some cases are attributed to low-fiber diet and/or constipation. Diets rich in fiber and prompt medical evaluations are recommended mainstays for prevention and treatment, respectively.
* The mere presence of diverticulosis usually will not cause significant symptoms. However, when an infection does occur severe abdominal pain is common, usually in the left lower abdomen. Fever, tenderness and altered bowel habits are common with diverticulitis.
* Management of diverticulitis is facilitated by prompt diagnosis and initiation of antibiotics. In some cases, pain medication can be a benefit to patients. During the acute infection, a low-fiber diet is best to limit the amount of food intake that might remain in the intestinal tract undigested.
In severe cases, hospitalization is needed for intravenous antibiotics and hydration. In such cases, bowel rest is preferred.
In cases where the infection is not contained and unresponsive to antibiotics, surgery is required. Surgery is also often the best course when a patient experiences frequent or recurrent episodes of diverticulitis.
* Complications of diverticulitis can greatly increase the mortality of the disease. When perforation is not contained, peritonitis will occur and emergency surgery is necessary. The mortality rate soars above 35 percent in this scenario. Abscesses, septic shock, multisystem failure and bowel obstruction can also complicate the condition. Fistulous tracts can arise between intestines or other organs including the bladder, vagina and skin. Bleeding from diverticulosis can cause massive blood losses.