Diverticulosis is the presence of small outpouchings, called diverticula, that develop in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. While diverticula can be present anywhere in the entire intestinal tract, they are most common on the left side of the large intestine, known as the descending and sigmoid colon. Diverticulosis is a common condition in the United States, affecting 50% of individuals over the age of 60 and increases as people get older. Both men and women are affected equally. It is rare in individuals younger than 40.
No one knows for certain the cause of diverticulosis, but low fiber diets may play a role in the development of diverticulosis. In areas of the world where diets are high in fiber, diverticulosis is rare. Once diverticula form, they do not disappear by themselves.
Most individuals with diverticulosis have no symptoms and they will not know they have the condition until it is discovered during an endoscopic (colonoscopy) or radiographic (x-ray) examination. Diverticulitis occurs when one of the diverticula become inflamed and infected. Common symptoms of diverticulitis include abdominal pain, usually the lower left side, fever, decreased appetite, nausea, and constipation. Treatment of diverticulitis requires antibiotics and occasionally hospitalization. Most individuals have an uneventful recovery. Surgery is rarely required, but may be needed for those not responding to medical management.
Diverticular bleeding may occur in the colon, resulting in the passage of large amounts of bright red blood from the rectum. It typically occurs without warning and there is no abdominal pain or rectal pain. Most diverticular bleeding stops without special treatment or intervention. However, in some cases endoscopy (colonoscopy) and radiologic procedures may be required to identify and stop the area of bleeding. Rarely surgery may be required.
A high fiber diet is recommended for individuals with diverticulosis. There is no scientific proof that eating nuts, popcorn, or fruits and vegatables with small seeds increases the risk of diverticulitis.
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