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By: Jody Ehrhardt - Updated: 6 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Diverticulitis Diverticulum Constipation

Diverticulitis is the medical term used to describe the infection and inflammation of small pouches in the colon also called diverticulum. These pouches form in weak areas of the colon and are more common in the elderly or in people who consume a low-fibre diet.

Causes of Diverticulitis

Scientists and doctors currently believe that episodes of constipation (usually brought on by a low fibre diet) ultimately lead to the development of diverticulum. Fibre, which is found in many foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, helps make stools softer and easier for the intestines to pass. When a diet is lacking in fibre the stools can become hard and can back up the intestines leading to a condition called constipation. When a person is constipated the muscles of the intestines are forced to push harder to expel wastes. This increased straining can put too much pressure on the walls of colon resulting in weak spots. These weak spots can eventually bulge leading to the formation of diverticulum.

Although the cause of diverticulum is clear, scientists do not know what exactly causes diverticulitis, or the inflammation and infection of these pouches. One theory, however, is that stool particles or bacteria can become caught in the pouches leading to their infection.

Symptoms of Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis can cause pain and tenderness in the lower portion of the abdomen. Other symptoms of this condition include cramping, constipation, chills, fever, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on the cause of the symptoms- infection or inflammation- and the progress of the condition. If left untreated and allowed to progress too far, the infection or inflammation can lead to further complications.

Complications of Diverticulitis

Episodes of diverticulitis can lead to more serious conditions such as intestinal obstruction, abscess, perforation, bleeding, and fistulas. Intestinal obstruction, or the blockage of the intestine, occurs when chronic episodes of diverticulitis result in the scarring of intestinal tissue. This scarring can interfere with the colon's ability to pass wastes from the body normally. If the body is unable to eliminate wastes surgery is needed to open the blockage. Abscesses are infected areas that contain pus. These abscesses can cause swelling and tissue damage in the area of their formation. In cases of diverticulitis abscesses can form when perforations, or small holes, develop in the pouch and allow pus to leak out of the colon and into the abdominal area.

Bleeding is a rare complication of diverticulitis that occurs when small blood vessels in the diverticulum weaken and burst. When this happens blood is released from the rectum into the stool.

Finally, fistulas can form between the bladder and colon resulting in severe urinary tract infections. Fistulas are the abnormal connection of tissue between two organs. These connections form when damaged and infected tissues come in contact with other infected areas and sticks together. Once connected the tissues must be surgically separated to cure the infection.

Treatment for Diverticulitis

Treatment for diverticulitis is aimed at eliminating the infection, preventing complications, and minimizing the inflammation of the diverticulum. Infection is eliminated through the use of antibiotics. Depending on the severity of the infection oral antibiotics can usually clear up the infection within five to seven days. By clearing up the infection quickly doctors can help keep the complications of this condition to a minimum. Once the infection is cleared up doctors usually recommend that patients consume a liquid diet, get a few days of bed rest, and take an over-the-counter pain reliever for the abdominal pain and symptoms.

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