# Friday, November 7, 2008
                 

Diverticulitis is a condition that affects many Canadians as they get older. It generally occurs in people over 40 and becomes more common as they age. Diverticulitis is the condition of having one or more diverticula (sacs that form by a fold in the lining of the intestinal wall). These sacs can trap feces that move through the intestine. It is quite common for Canadians to already have diverticula and be unaware of the condition as there are usually no symptoms until inflammation and/or bleeding occurs. Diverticulitis can also appear in the gastrointestinal tract above the stomach which can trap food. Esophageal diverticula do not cause any serious health problems, but trapped food can cause the food to back up when a person bends over and/or lies down.

Once the diverticula have become inflamed the condition is then known as diverticulitis which can become a serious health problem. It is believed that diverticula are usually caused by muscle spasms, or by pairs of muscles that do not contract in a synchronized manner. This puts pressure around the blood vessels that pass through the inside of the wall of the large intestine (colon). The most common symptom of inflammation is abdominal pain which usually occurs in the lower left side of the abdomen. Cramping, nausea, vomiting, bloating, fever, chills and sudden change in bowel habits can also signal diverticulitis.

Bleeding can occur when feces get lodged in a diverticulum and the bowel draws fluid out of feces before ejecting it. If the feces stays lodged for a long time it can become hard and dry, which can erode the blood vessels. This can cause a large amount of blood to be released from the rectum, as well as small amounts of blood being released on a continual basis. Any bleeding that does not stop always requires medical attention. A colonoscopy can be used to identify the site of the bleeding as well as to stop the bleeding. For people with chronic bleeding surgery may be necessary to remove the affected part of the colon.

Diverticulitis can cause infections that are easily treated with antibiotics. If an infection is left untreated, an abscess (localized collection of pus) can form in the wall of the colon. An abscess can cause swelling as well as destroy the surrounding tissue. If the abscess remains small and in the wall of the colon it usually can be treated with a course of antibiotics. If the abscess does not respond to antibiotics a doctor may need to insert a catheter through the skin in order to help drain the abscess.

Peritonitis can occur when large parts of the abdominal cavity become inflamed. It always causes a fever and the belly very often is bloated and feels very hard. As well, a person may feel extremely ill with nausea and vomiting. Peritonitis can cause death within a few hours if it is not treated. This can be caused by perforations that leak pus out of the colon and in turn form a large abscess in the abdominal cavity.

Diverticulitis is more common in North America, Australia and England where diets typically are not high in fiber. Industrialized countries that have diets that are high in processed foods have higher cases of diverticulitis than countries in Asia or Africa, where these food products are not as common in people's daily diets. If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis, changing your diet as well as regular exercise can be very beneficial. Talk to your health care professional about the best way to manage your condition, as well as possible medical procedures that may be required.

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