Painful abdominal cramping in association with a change in bowel movements might represent a non-specific gastrointestinal virus; or it could be the manifestation of a potentially serious disorder known as diverticulitis. More commonly found in patients over the age of 60, diverticulitis is a disease that involves an inflammation of the colonic wall and has the ability to cause severe complications. The underlying disorder (i.e. diverticulosis) that predisposes patients to diverticulitis is unquestionably widespread, with some sources reporting that more than 1 in 10 Americans have the disease. Of those, 25% will go on to manifest diverticulitis. What’s more, this statistic is not isolated to the aforementioned age category and also occurs in young adults. Additionally, scientists have stated that the prevalence of diverticulitis has been steadily increasing, a trend that has been witnessed in several countries. It’s important, therefore, for people to learn about the typical symptoms of this disorder and understand that receiving prompt and simple treatment is usually all that’s necessary to eradicate the infection.
A diverticulum is a sac-like protrusion at a weak point within the colonic wall. The presence of a diverticulum fundamentally means that a person has diverticulosis. If the diverticulum undergoes microscopic perforation, a bacterial inflammatory process ensues which is known as diverticulitis. The majority of patients with diverticulitis experience left-sided lower abdominal pain, low grade fevers, and either diarrhea or constipation. Of note, the reason why patients develop abdominal pain on the left lower side is due to the fact that the narrowest and most susceptible part of the colon, the sigmoid, is located there. Serious complications such as bowel obstruction, abscess (collection of pus) formation, or a major perforation of the bowel are rarely encountered. The diagnosis is generally made with a combination of the patient’s clinical presentation and radiographic imaging studies such as a CT scan. Most patients can be successfully treated with an outpatient antibiotic regimen, but if the patient is elderly, immunocompromised, or has a high fever, they will likely warrant admission to the hospital. Of all the patients with diverticulitis, 20-40% will have a recurrent episode, and elective surgery may be considered in those with four or more presentations of diverticulitis.
Many researchers believe that our dietary habits account for the rise in diverticulosis and diverticulitis seen worldwide. Previously, scientists thought that hard small food particles such as popcorn and nuts were responsible for the development of the diverticulum but data has shown that these foods are not associated with this process. On the other hand, what has been demonstrated is that patients who consume a higher amount of fatty foods and red meat have an increased risk of developing diverticular disease. More anecdotally, many people believe that processed foods are a contributing factor to a variety of disease processes, which has created a movement back to organically produced food items. In addition to this, data has also shown that consuming a high fiber diet and being involved in vigorous exercise activity reduces the risk of symptomatic disease. In fact these are beneficial practices that everyone should partake in irrespective of this disease entity. In any respect, paying attention to both potential symptoms and best practices is a sensible way to reduce the risk of diverticular disease.