Diverticulosis: Diverticulosis is the condition of having small pouches protruding from the wall of the colon. These pouches are extremely common among Americans, for example, where about 1 out of 10 people over age 40, half of those older than 60, and 2 out of 3 over age 80 have them.
Diverticulosis itself is really not a problem, as the pouches themselves are harmless and rarely cause symptoms. However, the situation becomes more serious if the pouches become infected from, for example, stool getting trapped in the pouch.
Diverticulitis: If infection occurs, the condition is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is more serious because infection can lead to other problems. Diverticulosis leads to diverticulitis in about 1 out of 5 to 1 out of 7 cases.
Researchers think a diet low in fiber is to blame for a high incidence of diverticulosis. Fiber is important because it helps keep stool soft and bulky so it can pass easily through the colon. Without enough fiber stool becomes hard, which creates pressure in the colon as the muscles strain to move the stool. This pressure is what causes the parts of the wall of the colon to pop out into pouches.
Most people with diverticulosis don’t know they have it unless they have studies of the colon done for other reasons and the doctor notices the pouches. But some people do have signs like mild cramps, bloating, or constipation.
People whose diverticulosis develops into diverticulitis have symptoms of abdominal pain (usually in the lower left side), fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, and chills. Symptoms of diverticulosis and diverticulitis are similar to other conditions, such as appendicitis, ovarian cyst, peptic ulcer, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowel syndrome – so the doctor may do tests such as x-rays, ultrasound, or endoscopy to make the right diagnosis.
The best way to help prevent diverticulitis is to keep diverticulosis under control. That means eating a high fiber diet – which requires 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day. Fiber is found in grains, vegetables, and fruits. Also, it is important to drink enough fluids – at least eight glasses – throughout the day to help keep stool soft.
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