Sometimes, on the walls of the last part of the colonn, there is a small sac or pouch called the diverticulum. The presence of diverticulus in the colon is called diverticulosis. Many older people, when the diverticulum develops, are unaware of it because diverticulosis often does not show any symptoms. However, in some cases, one or more diverticula can be inflamed for unknown reasons; this condition is called diverticulitis. There seems to be a link between diverticulum (diverticulosis or diverticulitis) and common nutrition in developed countries, i.e. nutrients containing few natural fibers.
If you have diverticulosis (i.e. diverticulum or diverticula in your bowel), you may not feel any symptoms. However, painful cramps are possbile and, sometimes, a sensitivity on the left side of the abdominal cavity. Flatulence or defecation may temporarily alleviate the symptoms. The stool is often small and hard, and occasional diarrhea attacks are also possible. Diverticula can bleed sometimes, although you may not notice it until you start expelling the blood with stool.
If the diverticulitis (inflammation of the diverticula) develops, you will experience severe pain in the abdominal cavity; the pain will at first be spasmodic, but will later become more permanent and limited to the lower left side of the abdominal cavity. You may feel nausea and have a fever. Pain will worsen if you touch a painful place. In some people, diverticulitis is known to spread and, within a few hours, cause a pain that virtually disables the patient. In some cases the symptoms may be mild for several days (possibly longer) before exacerbation.
In developed countries diverticulosis affects approximately 30% of people over the age of 60, although a small number feels uncomfortable symptoms. Diverticulitis (which affects women in two thirds of the cases) is even rarer.
Untreated diverticulitis can cause dangerous complications, e.g. development of abscesses in the colon around the inflamed diverticulum. If the abscess perforates the intestinal wall, peritonitis can develop.
What to do?
If your bowels are “behaving” unusually for more than 7 or 14 days, contact your doctor. The same advice applies in case of persistent pain in the lower part of the abdominal cavity. As soon as you are examined, your doctor will probably send you to blood tests, sigmoidoscopic bowel scan, and irigography to check that the cause of disorder is not colon cancer, which is manifested by similar symptoms.
Self-help: you may be able to stop the progress of diverticulum if you change your diet immediately. Eat bread made of browns instead of white bread, eat oat flakes for breakfast, and eat food that contains a large amount of fiber – i.e. fruit and vegetable. In many cases, mild symptoms of diverticulosis disappeared within 7 to 14 days after such a change in nutrition.
However, because of the great content of plant fibers in this diet, your belly can be inflated and you may have frequent flatulence. In that case, you may need to adjust the amount of fiber food until you determine the appropriate regime. If diverticulitis develops, no self-help measures can help you.
Professional help: if the diagnosis is diverticulitis, you will be taken to a hospital where the content of your stomach wtill be sucked out with nasogastric tube (sonde). At first, you will not be able to eat or drink either, so you will get the necessary fluids by infusion. With this procedure, all the hard substances will be removed from diverticula and allow them to recover. An eventual infection will be treated with antibiotics, and you will also receive anti-inflammatory agents if necessary. After a few days symptoms will be weaker and you will gradually begin to eat and drink normally. However, if doctors believe diverticulitis is likely to occur again, you will be advised to take an operation, i.e. removing the affected part of the colon.
If you start with the treatment right away, recovery prospects are excellent, even in cases of strong diverticulitis.