Diverticulosis


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WHAT IS DIVERTICULOSIS?

Diverticulosis is a condition affecting the digestive system, occurring when small pouches (diverticula) form on the inside of the colon, the lower portion of the large intestine. Our GI specialists have provided a comprehensive guide below, so read on to learn more about diverticulosis.

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CAUSE

While the cause of diverticular disease remains unknown, medical experts suspect that genetics and certain lifestyle choices may increase your risk of developing it. In fact, studies have identified certain genes that may indicate great chances of developing diverticular disease. These lifestyle factors may put patients at risk as well:

  • Low-fiber diet that’s high in red meat
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

RISK FACTORS 

Older Americans face a high risk for developing diverticulosis, as well as those who regularly consume a low-fiber diet. While they do not often cause any concerns, diverticula frequently form on the digestive system linings of those over 40 years old.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms of diverticular disease depend on whether the diverticula, the pouches that form on the colon’s wall, becomes infected. Most patients only begin to notice symptoms when complications arise, such as diverticular bleeding or diverticulitis.

Diverticula may cause these unpleasant chronic symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Bloody stool
  • Constipation 
  • Diarrhea
  • Cramping or lower abdominal discomfort
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

Be sure to schedule an appointment with your local GI specialists if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Intense abdominal pain, especially on the left side 
  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • Diarrhea 
  • Frequent bowel movements

DIAGNOSTIC TEST 

Here at Charleston GI, our gastroenterologists utilize several diagnostic procedures to diagnose diverticular disease. We may recommend one of the following:

TREATMENT

Doctors may recommend treatments for abscesses if diverticula become infected:

  • Antibiotics
  • Abscess draining (if antibiotics are not effective)
  • Surgery after a large abscess heals to prevent its return

PREVENTION

In some cases, your board certified GI doctor may recommend lifestyle changes like these to prevent diverticulitis:

  • Incorporating more fiber into your diet
  • Limiting red meat consumption
  • Adding physical activity on a regular basis
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight

Surgery is another potential option for patients who have experienced diverticulitis without serious complications. Because removing part of the colon can prevent the condition from recurring, surgery may be suggested by your gastroenterologist.

DIVERTICULOSIS DIET

Because no foods are known to trigger diverticulitis attacks, there is no special diet to follow. In the past, patients were told to avoid nuts, seeds, and popcorn.

A high-fiber diet is often encouraged though, including foods like these:

  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Brown and wild rice
  • Fruits such as apples, bananas and pears
  • Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, corn and squash
  • Whole wheat pasta and bread

UNDERSTANDING DIVERTICULAR DISEASE

Diverticulosis is the result of small defects in the wall of the large intestine or colon that allow small pouches (diverticula) to form. When they become inflamed or infected, diverticulitis is the unpleasant result. Diverticular disease is a comprehensive term that includes both these GI conditions.

Diverticulosis is extremely common, especially among older people and those who maintain low-fiber diets. In fact, more than half of adults aged 70 and over have the condition – and most don’t even know it!  

Diverticulosis, however, occurs more rarely. Studies indicate that diverticulosis became more common during the 20th century, especially throughout North America, Europe and Australia. It is less common in Asia and very uncommon in Africa. 

This data is what leads experts to believe that low-fiber diets, common in Western nations, may be a risk factor. Studies on animals appear to confirm this possible link. It has also been shown that diverticulitis occurs less frequently among vegetarians.

To schedule a diagnostic test for diverticular disease, contact a board certified gastroenterologist today!


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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Who gets diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is a very common condition among Americans, affecting half of all people over 60 years of age – and nearly everyone by the age of 80. As people age, the pouches in the digestive tract become more prominent. 

Does diverticulosis ever require surgery?

Surgery typically isn’t required for patients with acute diverticulitis. There are exceptions, of course. Your GI specialist may recommend surgery if abscesses have formed and do not respond to antibiotics.

What is the main cause of diverticulosis?

The cause of diverticula remains unknown, but these small pouches on the digestive tract’s lining are often associated with a low-fiber diet.

How common is it?

Diverticulosis is extremely common, especially among older people and those who maintain low-fiber diets. 

What is the difference between diverticulosis vs diverticulitis?

Diverticulosis occurs when small defects in the muscle of the wall of the large intestine or colon allow small pouches to develop. Diverticulitis, a more serious condition, occurs when the small pouches become inflamed or infected.

Does drinking water help diverticulosis?

Yes, water can help with diverticulosis – as does adding fiber to your diet. This additional “roughage” absorbs the water as it moves through the digestive system, helping to keep stool soft.

What is the biggest risk factor for diverticulosis?

Age plays a leading role in the formation of diverticula, with more than half of diverticulosis patients aged over 60. 

When should I worry about diverticulosis?

Many patients have diverticulosis for years without knowing it, if no concerns or complications arise. If the diverticula become infected, painful symptoms often present – and require treatment by a trusted GI doctor.

Can you live a long life with diverticulosis?

The vast majority of patients live their entire lives without any complications. Maintaining a low-fiber diet, a healthy weight, and an active lifestyle can help keep complications at bay. 

Is walking good for diverticulosis?

Physical activity, including walking, can lower your risk of developing diverticulitis. 

Should you have a colonoscopy if you have diverticulosis?

Patients suffering from diverticulitis face a higher risk for colorectal cancer and should schedule a colonoscopy to rule out a colorectal cancer diagnosis. 

What is the long-term treatment for diverticulosis?

Long-term management will likely include a high-fiber, low-fat diet as well as regular physical activity.


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To learn more about treatment for GI tract issues in Charleston, SC, get in touch today! Charleston Gastroenterology is committed to a higher standard of caring – and we provide a range of medical treatments to help you feel your best.

If you are experiencing painful gi tract symptoms, schedule your appointment today! No referral needed.

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