Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis: What is the Difference?

Diverticulitis

Diverticula are small protrude sacs that can develop in the tissue lining of your digestive tracts. They are commonly formed in the descended part of the colon.

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The condition of having of diverticula is called diverticulosis which is quite common in middle-aged people of 40 years, and this rarely give troubles because the sacs are harmless.

Still, when the condition has one or more of the sacs inflamed and in few cases infected, then the condition is called diverticulitis, and this condition is characterized by unpleasant symptoms which may vary across individuals.

Diverticulitis, if left untreated, may result in serious complications that can cause long-term health issues. Mild cases of diverticulitis are easy to treat with proper relaxation and rest, adequate dieting, and antibiotics, while recurring or severe cases of diverticulitis may need surgery.

This condition used to be rare in the early 20th century, diverticular disease is currently very common in our world today.

Signs And Symptoms advanced stage of diverticulosis

Diverticulosis is a condition that is not harmful, and it rarely causes any discomfort,  however, if this condition develops into diverticulitis, you are bound to experience symptoms which could be mild or severe:

  • Pain may be persistent for many days.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fever and chills
  • Abdominal tenderness.
  • Constipation or, less commonly, diarrhoea.
  • Blood in your stool
  • Bleeding from your rectum

If you experience one or more of the aforementioned symptoms, which includes; passing out blood in the stool, bleeding from your rectum or vomiting, then it might be on the edge of having a serious diverticulitis complication or probably another health condition, and you would need to get professional medical help as soon as possible.

Most people living with diverticulosis may not know that they have the condition because of how it is normally asymptomatic and harmless until they have their colon checked, maybe for some other reasons and their doctors notice the sacs before they can know that they have diverticulosis.

However,  there are few people who have diverticulosis, yet may experience slight symptoms such as bloating, mild cramps, or constipation.

It is important for your doctor to carry out tests like ultrasound, endoscopy or x-rays in order not to misdiagnose a health condition because symptoms of diverticulitis are almost identical with some other health conditions such as Irritable  Bowel Syndrome (IRS), ovarian cysts, Crohn’s disease, appendicitis, and peptic ulcer.

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Should I see a doctor when I have diverticulosis or diverticulitis?

You may experience one or more of these symptoms suddenly, or you may gradually feel the symptoms build up for several days, either way, you need to obtain medical help whenever you feel persistent and unexplained pain in your abdomen coupled with fever, diarrhoea and/or constipation.

Causes of both conditions

Usually, diverticula develop when pressure is mounted on weak points in your colon. This can result in the formation of pea-sized sacs protruding through the walls of your colon. This condition is called diverticulosis.

However, diverticulitis is a result of diverticula rupture, which can cause inflammation, and in some cases, may get infected.

According to experts, diverticular diseases have no known cause rather they believe that these conditions may be a result of factors that contribute to the formation of diverticula and they include; environmental factors and multiple genetic factors.

Risk factors of diverticulosis and diverticulitis

Diverticulosis and diverticulitis may not have a specific cause, but various factors are believed to increase your risk of developing these conditions:

  • Ageing: Aging is a natural process that every living thing must go through, and we have no power over it. This process may leave susceptible to many health conditions, and according to study, the chances of developing diverticulitis increases with age.
  • Obesity: Being obese is proven to increase your chances of developing diverticulitis.
  • Smoking: Smoking has many effects on the wellbeing of an individual. It is like the intentional intake of toxins into the body while our bodies should be toxin-free. This increases the chances of developing diverticulitis.
  • Lack of exercise: Frequent engagement in energetic exercises may reduce your risk of developing diverticulitis.
  • Consumption of a diet rich in animal fat and low in fibre: Adopting a dieting plan that promotes the consumption of meals low in fibre combined with high animal fat seems to promote the risk of developing diverticulitis.
  • Certain medications: Certain medicines are linked to an increased risk of developing diverticulitis. These medications may include opioids, steroids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,

Complications

Diverticulitis is known to be discomforting a lot and should be treated as soon as it is diagnosed because left untreated may develop complications that can be life-threatening.  These complications include:

  • Presence of abscess, which appears when pus is collected in the sacs.
  • Scarring can block your bowel.
  • Fistula: This is an abnormal passage between the bowel sections or between the bowel and other organs.
  • Peritonitis, which is a medical condition that can happen if the inflamed or infected sacs ruptures and spills the intestinal contents all over your abdominal cavity. This is a medical emergency and needs immediate health care.

Diagnosis

The wake of some symptoms indicating that you may have diverticulitis will have you go through a series of interrogations, tests, and scans in order to be diagnosed rightly.

The basic steps

Meeting with your doctor, describe your symptoms to them will take down important information which also includes; your health history and medications taken of recent. This will give the doctor insight on what the issues are before they take the next step.

Physical examination

  • Thorough physical examination, which includes:
  • Checking for abdomen tenderness.
  • Women are generally given a pelvic examination to cancel out pelvic disease
  • Colonoscopy to used to examine the inside of your intestinal tract
  • This will help in narrowing the condition down.

Laboratory tests

  • Right after that, your doctor may send you to take the following tests:
  • Blood and urine tests to check for infection.
  • A pregnancy test for women of childbearing age, to cancel out pregnancy as a possible cause of abdominal pain.
  • A liver enzyme test, to cancel out liver-related as the possible cause of abdominal pain
  • A stool test, to cancel out infection in people with diarrhea
  • Another stool test to check for infections, like Clostridium difficile
  • Urine test to check for infections
  • Blood tests to check for signs associated with inflammation, anaemia, or kidney or liver problems

Scans

  • These scans give your doctor a better view of what your inside looks like in order to help him identify the problem and how bad it is.

Treatment

Treatments applied depends on how severe your signs and symptoms.

Mild diverticulitis

If the symptoms you experience are mild, you may not be admitted into the hospital; you can just stay home and follow the doctor’s recommendation, which may include:

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Antibiotics to help in the treatment of infection. Increased intake of fluids and liquid or blended diet for a couple of days while your bowel heals. Solid food can be subsequently added once your bowel is healed.

Complicated diverticulitis

At this stage, you are more likely to be hospitalized in order to be supervised under professionals. Treatments applied at this stage generally involves:

Intravenous antibiotics

This is the Insertion of a tube specially designed to drain the present abdominal abscess.

Surgery

Surgery is needed when complications, such as fistula, bowel abscess, fistula or obstruction, or bowel wall perforation,  persistent recurrence after treatment, or if your immune system is weakened.  

Follow-up care

Follow up care is administered to prevent future recurrence.

Prevention

Although this condition does not have any known cause, there are some precautions you can take you help reduce your risks of developing diverticulitis. These precautions are to be applied religiously to ensure your safety from this medical condition, and they are as follows:

Exercise regularly

Exercising is known to promote normal bowel movements and help lower pressure in your colon. You are advised to work out at least 30 minutes almost every day.

Increase diet rich in fibre

Diet rich in fibre lowers your risk of developing diverticulitis. Foods in rich in fibre, such as fresh fruits and leafy vegetables and whole grains. This helps in the prevention of constipation because it softens faces,  makes faeces bulky, and easy to pass out through your colon.

Drink plenty of fluids

When you consume fibre for its benefits, it works by absorbing water, thereby making faeces soft and bulky for easy passage through your colon.

This is only when you drink plenty of fluids like water, fresh fruit juices, extracted vegetable juices, etc. If you do not take drink enough fluids for the fibre To absorb then the fibre can cause constipation.

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Avoid smoking

Since smoking is linked to an increased risk of developing diverticulitis avoiding smoking, even second-hand smoking should be avoided.

Bottomline

Having more than one diverticula is called diverticulosis, and this condition is a rarely troublesome one because the sacs are harmless. However, when the condition has a few sacs inflamed and in some cases infected, it is called diverticulitis.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.