What is Diverticular Disease?
Diverticula are pockets that develop in the colon wall, usually in the sigmoid or left colon, but may involve the entire colon. Diverticulosis describes the presence of these pockets and is a common condition that afflicts about 50 percent of people by age 60 and nearly all by age 80. Only a small percentage of those with Diverticulosis have symptoms, and even fewer will ever require surgery. Diverticulitis describes inflammation or complications of these pockets.
The major symptoms of Diverticular Disease are abdominal pain (usually in the lower left abdomen), diarrhea, cramps, alteration of bowel habit and occasionally, severe rectal bleeding. These symptoms occur in a small percentage of patients with the condition and are sometimes difficult to distinguish from Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Diverticulitis – an infection of the diverticula – may cause one or more of the following symptoms: pain, chills, fever and change in bowel habits. More intense symptoms are associated with serious complications such as perforation, abscess or Fistula formation.
Diverticulosis and Diverticular Disease are usually treated by diet. Diverticular Disease is unknown in rural Africans who eat a high-fibre diet, but is common in Western societies where many people have a low fibre intake. It is much less common in vegetarians. Treatment for acute diverticulitis usually consists of antibiotics. Severe cases require hospitalisation. Most acute attacks can be relieved with such methods. Surgery is reserved for recurrent episodes, complications or severe attacks when there’s little or no response to medication.