Many, many individuals have pouches in their colon wall called diverticula. When you have diverticula you have the condition known as diverticulosis. It is common to have diverticulosis because 10% of all Americans over the age of 40 have them. The condition becomes more common the older individuals become.
When these pockets become lodged with feces or food and the presence of these particles inflame the diverticula, infection can set in. The infected diverticula are called having a condition known as diverticulitis. This occurs in 10 to 25% of individuals with diverticulosis. The two conditions, diverticulosis and diverticulitis are referred to as diverticular disease.
Usually individuals who have diverticulosis have no symptoms and no discomfort. Some individuals with diverticulosis may experience mild cramping, bloating, or constipation. The same symptoms occur in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and stomach ulcers, so individuals are often misdiagnosed with these conditions when they really have diverticulosis. If you experience any of the above symptoms you should see your doctor for an examination and diagnosis.
When individuals have diverticulitis they may not have any discomfort or symptoms or they may have abdominal pain, tenderness on the left side of the lower abdomen, fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping and also constipation. The severity of the symptoms will depend on how serious the infection is and if there are any complications associated with the condition.
There can be complications that can become severe if not treated immediately when a person has diverticulitis. The most common complications of diverticulitis are bleeding, abscess, perforation, fistula, intestinal obstruction, and peritonitis.
Bleeding is rare, but can occur. Bleeding comes from the diverticula and may show up on the toilet paper, or in the toilet. Bleeding can become severe as to cause signs of shock from severe blood loss. The bleeding can also be mild and stop on its own. If severe, the bleeding will need medical intervention, usually surgery.
When you have infected diverticula and antibiotics do not clear it up, it can become worse over the course of a few days and turn into an abscess when the infection expands past the diverticula and spills over into the abdomen. If the infected diverticula develop small holes, those small holes are called perforations. A large abscess can leak out into the abdominal cavity causing peritonitis. Peritonitis requires emergency surgery to clean out the abdominal cavity and to remove any damaged portion of the colon.
Fistulas are abnormal connection of tissue between either two organs or between an organ and the skin. They occur when damaged tissue contacts each other during the infection, and then stick together healing together. The most common fistula is that between the bladder and the colon.
Intestinal obstruction can be partial or total and blocks stool from exiting the colon. A total blockage is an emergency and a partial has the time to schedule an operation.