Diverticular disease is a chronic condition that causes small, bulging sacs to develop within the digestive tract (colon). There are many medical terms used to describe diverticular disease such as diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Although similar, these two medical terms do not define the actual disease. Diverticulosis refers to having individual sacs or pouches within the colon that cause no symptoms, whereas diverticulitis is inflammation or infection of one or more sacs (diverticula) within the colon.
There is no known cause of diverticular disease, but researchers speculate a low-fiber diet may increase the likelihood of developing this condition. This widely accepted theory came to fruition after many scientists began noticing an increase in individuals with diverticular disease after they ate more processed foods and less fiber. Other studies have found decreased levels of serotonin, smoking, certain medications, and obesity may be linked to increased muscle spasms within the colon, which causes diverticular disease.
Because a low fiber diet, alcohol, cigarette smoking, and certain anti-inflammatory medications are considered potential causes, they are also treated as possible risk factors. Additionally, women over the age of 50 have a much higher risk of developing diverticular disease than men.
Patients with diverticular disease may exhibit an array of symptoms, including:
- Pain in the lower, left-side abdomen
- Pain in the abdomen that begins suddenly and worsens over time
- Fever and chills
- Weakness, light-headedness, dizziness
- Abdominal cramps
- Changes in bowel movements (i.e. constipation, diarrhea, etc.)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Blood in stool
Diverticular disease exhibits various symptoms and levels of severity. With that, there is not “one” treatment modality capable of mitigating this complex condition. Fortunately, many patients experience little to no side effects from diverticular disease. Nevertheless, for those who do encounter pain and discomfort from this condition, treatment may come in the form of dietary changes, fiber supplements, prescription medications, probiotics, and consistent screenings to ensure the condition has not worsened. Patients experiencing complications from diverticular disease such as an abscess, perforation, or fistula, may benefit from special antibiotics and a minimally invasive procedure.