Diverticulitis and diverticulosis are two conditions that occur in your colon (large intestine). Together they are known as diverticular disease, and both effect the pockets or bulges that form in the wall of your colon (diverticula). While diverticulosis often causes no symptoms, diverticulitis is a potentially serious and dangerous condition.
What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticula are formed in your colon wall by increased pressure inside the colon. This pressure causes pockets or bulges to form in weakened areas of your colon’s wall. They can range from pea-size to much larger, often forming on the lower-left side of your colon in the S-shaped segment, called the sigmoid colon. Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of these diverticula become inflamed or infected, often causing discomfort and unpleasant symptoms.
Diverticulitis symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain, usually on the left side of the abdomen
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Cramping in the lower abdomen
- Rectal bleeding
- Constipation or, less commonly, diarrhea
Causes & Risk Factors
Diverticular disease may be caused by a diet low in fiber. Eating a low-fiber diet in combination with a high intake of animal fat appears to be the main dietary factors that increase the risk of developing diverticulitis. Other risk factors include:
- Lack of Exercise
- Certain medications, such as steroids, opioids; or, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen.
If you have symptoms of diverticulitis, it’s important to get a medical exam to get correctly diagnosed. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history and perform a physical examination that checks your abdomen for pain and tenderness. They may order other tests to help with your diagnosis, such as:
- Colonoscopy – A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which a colonoscope is inserted into the rectum to view and examine the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy can identify abnormalities and help diagnose diverticulitis.
- CT Scan – A CT scan can show inflamed or infected diverticula and reveal the severity of the condition.
- Rectal exam – In this procedure, the healthcare provider gently inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel for any problems in the anus or rectum.
- Stool sample – A stool sample is checked for the presence of abnormal bacteria or parasites or other possible causes of your infection or other symptoms.
- Blood test – A blood test is taken to check for signs of infection, such as a high white blood cell count.
Mild diverticulitis can be treated with rest, pain relievers, antibiotics and dietary changes. A high-fiber diet softens the waste material and helps stools pass more quickly through your colon. A diverticulitis diet includes plenty of fiber, with foods such as:
- Fresh fruits
- Beans and legumes
Fiber absorbs water, increasing the soft bulky waste in your colon. Therefore, it is important to also drink plenty of water to avoid constipation caused by the absorption of water. People with more severe cases of diverticulitis may require surgery.
A diverticular condition requiring abdominal surgery can be performed using conventional open surgery procedures, or with minimally invasive surgery using robotics. With robotic colon surgery, a specialized camera displays magnified and three-dimensional images of the intended surgical area. The surgeon sits at a console and directs the robotic arms. These arms hold the surgical instruments and use their multi-dimensional wrists to smoothly maneuver into areas that are harder or impossible to reach in traditional surgery. Several benefits to robotic surgery are less pain, fewer complications, a shorter hospital stay and shorter recovery time.