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The uniqueness of diverticulitis and how to treat it

A scan of a colon with diverticulosis

In the medical field, the suffix ‘-itis' stands for inflammation. Bronchitis, laryngitis, etc., are all inflammatory medical problems.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Rajeev Jain tackles the unique inflammatory condition, diverticulitis. Jain is the chief of gastroenterology at Texas Heath Dallas and a partner at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants.

Before understanding diverticulitis, however, Jain says it is important to understand what diverticulosis is.

“Diverticulosis is like a sac or weakness in the wall of the colon. In fact it can occur in any part of the gastrointestinal tract but it really causes problems in the colon,” Jain says.

In turn, diverticulitis is the inflammation of those sacs or weaknesses.

“Most patients that have the pouches, diverticulosis, don’t even know that they have it. The only way that they know is from imaging, CT scan, or a colonoscopy,” Jain says.

Diverticulosis is a condition that Jain attributes to years of a western-style diet, in which meats are consumed more than fiber. Jain says that the average American consumes about 12 grams of fiber a day when they should be consuming 25 to 30.

Although unclear of what causes the development of the sacs in the colon, Jain says that as patients get older diverticulosis becomes more common.

“If you look at patients who are 60 years or older, six out of 10 of them will have diverticulosis,” Jain says. “So it’s very common.”

The inflammation side, however, is not.

“Out of 10 patients with diverticulosis, only about two will develop the inflammation,” Jain says.

Patients with the sacs can tell if there is inflammation through pain in the lower left side of the abdomen, fevers, nausea and irregular bowel movements. Jain recommends patients with these symptoms contact a physician, as 95 percent of the time antibiotics can reduce any inflammation.

“Other major complications are the narrowing of the colon that can sometimes lead to trouble in eliminating waste,” Jain says. “Complications that are less common are fistula (the connection from one organ to another) and peritonitis (the inflammation of the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen).”

Inflammation of another condition, like diverticulosis and diverticulitis, is unusual but can be serious if not treated. Jain says that increasing the amount of fiber along with adding nuts and seeds to their diet, patients can help prevent any problems with diverticulosis in the future.