The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter provides an overview of this condition, which generally produces no symptoms. Most people learn about the presence of the pouches, called diverticula, during a colon exam to screen for polyps or colon cancer. Typically, diverticula only become a problem when inflammation or infection develops. When that happens, it’s called diverticulitis.
Symptoms of diverticulitis include pain and tenderness in the lower left side of the abdomen. The pain is often intense and comes on suddenly. Some people experience less severe pain that fluctuates and gradually builds over days. Fever, nausea, constipation and diarrhea, and, occasionally, urinary problems may be present.
Diverticulitis is mild and uncomplicated for about three-fourths of people with the condition. Treatment includes nonprescription pain medication, antibiotics and a liquid diet for a few days, typically administered from home.
Diverticulitis can be more serious and even life-threatening. Complications can include an infected, pus-filled pocket (abscess), a diverticulum rupturing into the abdominal cavity, or bowel obstruction. Intravenous antibiotics and surgery may be needed to remove the affected portion of the colon.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes these colon abnormalities. It’s suspected to be related to a lack of dietary fiber, lack of exercise, obesity and aging. Lifestyle changes, especially adding fiber to the diet, can prevent the progression of diverticular disease and recurrence of diverticulitis. The recommendation is that men and women over age 51 consume 30 and 21 grams of fiber daily, respectively. A high-fiber diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain products, beans and legumes. There is no evidence that foods such as seeds, nuts or popcorn increase the risk of diverticulitis.
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