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Diverticulitis-It's on the Rise in Younger People

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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.

Symptoms

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 experience

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Cramping
  • Constipation

    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 little fiber.

    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:

    Apples
    Pears
    Broccoli
    Brussels sprouts
    Cabbage
    Carrots
    Spinach
    Summer and winter squash
    Baked, kidney and lima beans
    Brown rice
    Oatmeal
    Bran cereal
    Whole grain bread



    Source:
    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



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