Diverticular Disease

A common gastrointestinal diagnosis is diverticular disease which affects around 30 million Americans. It is more common for those over the age of 40 and the risk increases as you age. By the age of 80, it effects virtually everyone. In most cases there are no symptoms and diverticular disease is normally discovered while looking for something else – most commonly, during a screening colonoscopy.

Diverticulosis is a condition in which small balloon-like sacs develop in the colon; ballooning outward from the inside of the colon wall. If there is just one it is called a diverticulum, and if there are several they are called diverticula. They can occur anywhere in the colon, but are more common near the end or on the left side of the colon.

Diverticular disease is rare in countries whose diet is rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Therefore, doctors believe the prevalence of the disease in the US is due to a hight fat, low fiber diet. Changing to a high-fiber, low fat diet is recommended for patients with diverticular disease and a vast majority of those patients will not experience any complications.

Complications, while not common, can be quite severe and should be attended to immediately. Pain, fever and bleeding, or a combination of those, are likely to be a part of such complications. If you have diverticulosis and any of these symptoms occur, you should contact your physician immediately.

  • Diverticulitis is an inflammation or infection of one or more diverticula. It occurs in about 5-15% of all patients who have diverticulosis. However, that small percentage accounts for over 200,000 hospitalizations a year. About 10% of patients with diverticulitis require surgery. Symptoms of diverticulitis may include pain, fever, and changes in bowel habits (constipation, diarrhea, or both). Nausea and vomiting might also occur. Diverticulitis is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics and a low residue diet. Extreme cases may require hospitalization and/or surgery.
  • Diverticular Bleeding – occasionally diverticulum may bleed. You may notice a small amount of bright red blood or more severe bleeding. Any bleeding should be reported to your physician at Asheville Gastroenterology Associates for immediate attention.
  • Perforation is a rare but life-threatening complication where the diverticulum actually ruptures or perforates allowing the contents of the intestine to leak in to the abdominal cavity. Pain accompanied by high fever should be reported immediately. Surgery is usually required to repair the perforation.