Diverticulitis-It's on the Rise in Younger People
Diverticulosis is a common condition in which pouches develop in your colon.
They're like weaknesses in a tire-little bulges that often cause little or no
discomfort. Each pouch is called a diverticulum. About 10 percent of Americans
over 40 have diverticulosis. By age 60, about half of Americans have this condition.
It's called diverticular disease.
If the pouches become infected and inflamed, the condition becomes more serious
and is called acute diverticulitis. About 10 to 25 percent of people with diverticulosis
go on to develop this.
Recent research indicates that acute diverticulitis is becoming more common
among younger people, especially urban men. A new study conducted in an urban
medical center showed that 53.8 percent of patients diagnosed with acute diverticulitis
were younger than 50, and about one fifth of them were younger than 40.
Experts believe that the increase in diverticulitis is likely related to a
diet that's high in fat and low in fiber. As a rule, people who have healthy
diets (eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and get regular exercise
are unlikely to develop diverticulosis.
If you have diverticulosis-just the pouches, without infection or inflammation,
you may have no symptoms at all. On the other hand, you may sometimes notice
mild cramps, bloating and constipation.
The primary symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain, especially in the
area around the left side of the abdomen. If you have an infection, you will
also probably experienceFever
Severe diverticulitis can lead to bleeding, abscesses, tears (also called perforations)
and blockages in the colon. That's why it's important to treat the condition
as soon as you have symptoms.
Treatment for diverticulitis
Antibiotics are often able to clear up acute diverticulitis within a few days.
If abscesses are present, antibiotics may be enough to clear them up. If the
antibiotics don't work, the doctor may need to drain the abscesses. In some
cases, surgery may also be necessary if the abscess has destroyed too much tissue.
Additionally, the infection from a large abscess may leak out of the colon and
contaminate other areas in the abdominal cavity. This is called peritonitis,
and it's extremely serious. It requires surgery right away, to remove the part
of the colon that's damaged and to clean the abdominal cavity.
How to avoid diverticular disease
Most experts believe that a low fiber diet is the primary cause of diverticulosis.
Medical professionals first began to notice the condition in the U.S. in the
early 1900s, when processed food was becoming widespread. Foods that are processed
lose much of their original nutritional value. For example, whole grain flour,
processed into white flour, is no longer a whole grain food and contains very
Diverticular disease is more common in cultures that have low fiber diets.
It's rare in Asia and Africa, where fruits and vegetables are still mainstays
of nearly every meal.
When you don't get enough fiber in your diet, you're more likely to become
constipated. And when you're constipated, you strain to pass your stools. This
straining puts pressure on the colon. Experts believe it's this pressure that
causes the weak places to develop and create pouches.
Increasing the fiber in your diet can help reduce symptoms related to diverticulosis
and prevent diverticulitis from developing. Include these foods to increase
your fiber intake:
Summer and winter squash
Baked, kidney and lima beans
Whole grain bread
American Journal of Roentgenology, September 2006; National Institute of Digestive and Diabetes and Kidney Diseases; The U.S. Department of Agriculture; Prevention; The World Health Organization