Diverticulitis is inflammation or infection of diverticula, which are tiny pouches that form in the colon. This inflammation causes abdominal pain and digestive symptoms and can cause bleeding in the colon. Diverticulitis is treated with pain medication and antibiotics when required.
The reason why diverticula form in the colon is not well understood. The prevailing idea is that a low-fiber diet is one of the main causes. A low-fiber diet is implicated because fiber adds bulk and moisture to the stool, which makes it easier to move through the colon. Without the addition of fiber, the colon must work harder to move the stool. This added pressure is thought to push the walls of the colon out at weak spots where blood vessels pass through, which creates the tiny diverticula pouches.
As stool moves through the colon, small amounts of food or stool can enter the diverticula and become trapped. If bacteria are present in the trapped food or stool, inflammation or infection can occur. The result of this is diverticulitis. Symptoms include pain in the lower left belly, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fever and chills. Sometimes, the pain is worse during movement.
This disease can be complicated by peritonitis, which can develop if the infection in a diverticulum causes the colon wall to tear. If this occurs, the infection can migrate into the abdominal cavity, causing intense abdominal swelling and pain, vomiting, nausea, a rapid pulse, rapid breathing, chills and fever. If these symptoms develop in someone with diverticulitis, he or she should get emergency medical treatment immediately, because peritonitis is a life-threatening condition if not treated promptly.
Home treatment is sufficient to manage the symptoms of mild diverticulitis. Heating pads can help relieve pain and cramps, and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used as needed. If these measures don’t help manage the pain, a doctor should be consulted. For infection and severe pain, painkillers and antibiotics are prescribed by a doctor. The risk of further attacks can be reduced with a high-fiber diet that is rich in vegetables and whole grains and by drinking plenty of water each day. This way of eating will help bulk up and soften the stool and ease the movement of stool through the colon.
If attacks become frequent or severe, surgery might be needed. The procedure is called a partial colectomy and involves the surgical removal of diseased sections of colon. Once these sections have been removed, the remaining parts are connected. Depending on the severity of the disease, one or more surgeries might be needed to repair the damage.