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Definition of Diverticulitis

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Diverticulitis: Inflammation of the diverticula (small outpouchings) along the wall of the colon, the large intestine. (One outpouching is a diverticulum; two or more are diverticula).

For diverticulitis to occur, there must be diverticulosis, the presence of diverticula. Diverticulosis can occur anywhere in the colon but it is most typical in the sigmoid colon, the S-shaped segment of the colon the left lower part of the abdomen. (Sides are from the patient's perspective so the left lower part of your abdomen is nearest your left hand).

The incidence of diverticulosis increases with age. Age causes a weakening of the walls of the colon and this weakening permits the formation of diverticula. By age 80, most people have diverticulosis.

A key factor promoting the formation of diverticulosis is elevated pressure within the colon. The pressure within the colon is raised when a person is constipated and has to push down to pass small, hard bits of stool ("rabbit droppings").

Most patients with diverticulosis have few or no symptoms although some have mild symptoms including abdominal cramping and bloating.

Diverticulosis sets the stage for inflammation and infection of the outpouching, that is for diverticulitis. (The "-itis" refers to inflammation.) It is potentially serious and can result in pain in the left lower abdomen, fever, nausea, vomiting, constipation and, paradoxically, diarrhea and frequent urination. Even graver consequences such as perforation of the colon and peritonitis are well known from diverticulitis.

The best way to avoid developing diverticulosis in the first place (aside from the impossibility of staying young) is by eating a proper healthy diet With plenty of fiber. A diet high in fiber keeps the bowels moving, keeps the pressure within the colon within normal limits, and slows or stops the formation of diverticula.

Diverticulitis can be diagnosed with barium x-rays of the colon or with sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Treatment of diverticulitis is designed to combat the inflammation and infection.

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Reviewed on 12/4/2018

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