As they age, most people develop small pouches in their colon wall, called diverticuli. Many people spend their lives without ever noticing a problem, but when the diverticuli become infected problems result. McLeod Gastroenterologist Terri Jaggers, MD, takes us from the merely painful to the severely septic conditions that diverticulitis may bring.
Here’s a summary of Dr. Jaggers comments:
People confuse diverticulitis and diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is when you have those pouches in the colon. They don’t cause symptoms and most of us have it as we age. But diverticulitis is when those little diverticuli become infected.
The little pouches can get clogged up with infection, stool or whatever happens to be passing through the colon. And when that happens, it causes diverticulitis and pain. Pain from diverticulitis is usually in the left, lower part of your abdomen, because the most common location for the diverticuli is on the left side of the colon. Other symptoms include fever and chills. Some people have blood in the stool or even constipation or diarrhea.
Like any infection, diverticultitis can leak into your bloodstream, making you septic from the bacteria in your blood. Another dreaded complication is what we call perforation. That’s when the infection gets so bad, it causes a hole in the colon and the contents of the gut spill out into the abdomen. This situation is very, very serious. Another long-term complication can be a stricture, where the colon is narrowed from scar tissue and can cause symptoms, even years later after a bout of diverticulitis.
People in certain parts of the world like Asia and Africa area don’t have exhibit much of a diverticuli problem. We think it’s because the Western diet is loaded with processed foods. We don’t get enough fiber. And also, it’s part of aging with a bit of a genetic component to it as well.
Just like any infection, diverticulitis is treated with antibiotics, usually oral antibiotics. If it’s severe with an abscess or a perforation, the patient needs to be in the hospital and receive IV antibiotics.
One very important thing in regards to diverticulitis: we want to make sure that it is not misdiagnosed. Sometimes on a CT scan, an inflammatory area will appear on the left colon. It is presumed to be diverticulitis.
If one has not had a recent colonoscopy, after treating the diverticulitis you should have one to be sure the mass is not colon cancer. That unfortunate thing happened to my mother-in-law. She had what they presumed was diverticulitis. It was treated. She got better, still had some symptoms. Eventually, she had a colonoscopy and it turned out to be had colon cancer. So, that is a very important thing to remember about diverticulitis.