Your colon is made of several different layers of cells, each of which carry out different functions. The lining of the colon is called the mucosa; it helps to transport water away from waste and back into your body and produces mucous to help lubricate the surface so waste moves through. Beneath that are layers that contain nerves and blood vessels. There are also layers of muscles that run the length of the colon and others that circle the colon. These help to create contractions to propel waste through to the rectum, where it is stored before you eliminate it while using the toilet.
As we age, our muscles throughout our bodies lose tone – and the colon is no exception. Also, if an individual’s diet does not contain much fiber, stool can be more difficult to pass, causing straining with bowel movements. Pressure in the colon separates these muscle fibers, allowing pouches to form. The pouches are known as diverticula and the condition associated with them is known as diverticulosis.
Diverticulosis can happen to anyone, although the risk increases with each decade of life after 40. It is equally present in men and women and affects individuals of all ethnicities. It is more present in cultures where a western-style, lower fiber diet is prevalent.
Symptoms of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Normally, there is no pain associated with diverticulosis although some individuals experience constipation, cramping and rectal bleeding. However, if the pouch becomes inflamed, the condition becomes diverticulitis. With this condition, a person can experience symptoms of an infection, including fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pain. The pouches can also tear, causing the contents of the intestines to spill into the abdominal cavity, which will also cause an infection.
Diagnosis of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Many times, diagnosis of non-symptomatic diverticulosis is made during a screening colonoscopy, which is recommended to screen for colon cancer at age 45 in most individuals and at age 40 for those with a family history of the condition.
Others may experience some symptoms, prompting their physician to order blood tests and perform a physical exam. Because abdominal pain or tenderness could be related to a number of conditions, the doctor may order a CT scan of the abdomen or perform an endoscopy.
Treatment of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
When diverticulosis is discovered, a diet that is richer in fiber is usually prescribed along with an increase in water intake; both help stools become easier to pass and are known to reduce constipation.
For diverticulitis, the treatment depends on the patient’s symptoms. At times, a course of antibiotics and a temporary change in diet is all that is needed until the infection clears up. Other individuals may require hospitalization or resection surgery to remove the affected part of the colon.