By Erick A. Salvatierra, M.D.
It is not uncommon for patients to confuse the terms diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Is there a difference? Is it genetic? Is it common? Are there complications? Can this be prevented? In short, the answer is yes.
Diverticulosis is a common condition and refers to the presence of small outpouchings or sacs that can form in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. They are most commonly found within the lower GI tract and often concentrated in the left colon. They are usually found incidentally on X-ray imaging or during a routine colonoscopy.
The cause of diverticulosis is unknown. Some suggest that abnormal contraction and spasm (resulting in intermittent high pressure in the colon) may cause diverticula to form in a weak spot of the intestinal wall. Low fiber diets may play a role in the development of diverticulosis. There also appears to be a genetic predisposition to diverticulosis.
While most patients are asymptomatic, complications can occur. The most common complication of these benign pockets is diverticulitis. Diverticulitisis an inflammation and/or infection of one of the diverticulum. Patients with this condition typically complain about lower abdominal pain accompanied with fever.
One is usually diagnosed primarily by a CT scan of the abdomen. This process normally heals with antibiotic therapy and occasionally hospitalization is required. Other potential complications of diverticular disease include perforation, abscess formation and bleeding.
It is not known whether diverticulosis can be prevented. A diet rich in fiber (bran cereals, whole wheat breads, fresh fruits, and leafy vegetables) may decrease the development of diverticulosis, improve symptoms of constipation and decrease the likelihood of complications. Benefits of a high fiber diet may be seen in those who eat between 15 and 30grams of fiber a day.
Patients with diverticulosis are sometimes instructed to avoid foods that contain undigestible particles such as popcorn, nuts and fruits with small seeds. The theory of such a diet is that these particles might get “caught” in a diverticulum and precipitate diverticulitis. Proof of effectiveness for such a diet is lacking and only anecdotal stories support this restricted diet for patients.
In summary, diverticulosis is a simple pocket formed within the gastrointestinal tract. Diverticulitis is the inflammation of this pocket. A diet rich in fiber may prevent further development and complications of this condition.
For more information please refer to:
American College of Gastroenterology