What is Diverticulosis?
Diverticulosis describes pockets or out-pouchings that extend from the wall of the colon. They form due to contractions and pressure that develops in the colon during the processing of stool. Although it can occur in any part of the colon, Diverticulosis typically develops in the sigmoid and descending colon, which are in the left side of the abdomen.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Diverticulosis typically causes no symptoms. Occasionally it can be associated with a spasm or intermittent cramping in the left lower abdomen. In severe circumstances, it can lead to a narrowing in the colon which can cause irregular bowel movements. A complication of Diverticulosis is Diverticulitis. Diverticulitis refers to the inflammation and infection of the pockets in the colon. If mild, this can cause pain in the lower left abdomen, fever and chills. If severe, it can lead to extreme pain, disseminated infection or a tear in the colon. Due to the thin walls of the pockets in Diverticulosis, blood vessels of the colon become exposed and are prone to bleeding. This is one of the most common causes of bleeding in patients over 50.
Dietary Recommendations for Diverticulitis Flare-up: Low-residue Diet
A high fiber diet is important in promoting colon health. It is associated with increased regularity and possibly a decreased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer. Patients with diverticulosis should be on a high fiber diet.
When the pockets in diverticulosis become infected, diverticulitis develops. While patients have symptoms of diverticulitis such as pain and fever, they may have trouble processing fiber. During a flare of diverticulitis, patients should be on a low fiber diet (low residue diet). Once the diverticulitis has resolved, the patient should gradually resume a high fiber diet again.
Aging and heredity are primary factors in the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis, but diet also plays a role.
Of those with diverticulosis, about 10-25% will go on to develop diverticulitis.
Once you develop diverticula, they are there to stay, unless you have them surgically removed.
Prevention & Treatment
There is no way to prevent Diverticulosis or Diverticulitis. However, it is thought that taking fiber supplements may have a protective effect – as there is a lower incidence of diverticulosis in countries with high dietary fiber intake. Older theories suggested that eating small particles of seeds, nuts or kernels got caught in the pockets and cause diverticulitis. But more recent data suggest that these foods are not harmful in such patients, and should not be restricted.