Diverticula will generally develop when there are naturally weak places in the colon that begin to give way due to pressure. This allows for pouches the size of a marble to form, protruding through the wall of the colon. How these diverticula become infected or inflamed is not yet understood, but there are theories. It is believed that the increased pressure within the colon causes weakening of the diverticula wall, which leads to an infection. Another theory is that the diverticula trap fecal matter, leading to infection. Inflammation may be caused by obstructions in the narrow openings of the diverticulum, reducing blood supply in the area.
There are some risk factors associated with diverticulitis including not getting enough fiber in the diet, aging, lack of exercise, smoking habits and obesity. People over the age of 40 are more likely to develop diverticulitis as are individuals who smoke or are overweight.
Seeking treatment for diverticulitis is essential and there are a number of complications that can result from not getting adequate healthcare when suffering from this disease. Some of these serious complications can include: peritonitis, rectal bleeding, colon blockages, small intestinal blockages, fistulas and abscesses. Peritonitis, for example, is a serious medical emergency that must be treated immediately, but it can be avoided through proper medical care.
Some of the symptoms that appear when a patient has diverticulitis include: sudden and severe pain, mild abdominal pain, changes in bowel habits, sudden fevers, vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, rectal bleeding and tenderness in the abdomen.
Diverticula do not typically cause problems by themselves and so most people find out that they have diverticulosis through routine screening such as a search for colorectal cancer or some other intestinal problem. It, however, is typically diagnosed because an acute attack is occurring. A physician will want to rule out other potential causes for the abdominal pain and cramping such as stomach ulcers and appendicitis through routine examination, checking white blood cells and ordering imaging tests. CT scans and x-rays can help to determine what the actual cause of the problem is.
Treatment for diverticulitis will depend on how severe the condition is. If the signs and symptoms are very severe or if the risk for complications is great, then a more aggressive treatment will be ideal. If the symptoms are mild and it is the first attack of diverticulitis, then there are small changes that can be made. A low-fiber diet or a liquid diet coupled with antibiotics is typically the first course of action for low-grade diverticulitis. Severe attacks may entail hospitalization, abscess draining, primary bowel resection or bowel resection with a colostomy depending on the level of inflammation or how serious the infection is.