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Diverticular Disease – The Cause, Symptoms and Diagnosis of Diverticular Disease

The intestinal tract of some people develops pouches or diverticula. This is a health disorder of the lower intestinal tract and in particular the colon. It can however affect other parts of the gastrointestinal wall. The condition is characterized by pocket or sack development of ‘diverticula’ within the colon’s wall. The diverticula tend to grow in the weak regions of the bowel wall and especially in places where blood vessels passing through the bowel walls and regions of the colon that are generally narrow – such as the the sigmoid colon area.

It is generally believed that diverticula development is mostly the result of the western style diet adoption, which can be generally low in fiber. Highly processing most kind of foods is a common practice in developed or industrialized countries. Due to large scale of refining carried out with many foods, fiber and many other nutrients contained are removed.

A diet that is too low in fiber leads in the development of fecal matter that is different in consistency from that of a diet rich in fibber. As a result of poor fibber consumption a higher muscular force is applied and strain during bowel movement. It is this high pressure and strains that result in the outwards expansion of the bowel through the muscles surrounding the area to consequently form pouch like structures called diverticula.

A diet high in meat and ant related product, as opposed to plant foods, has shown to lead in diverticular disease. Animal products contain no fiber; in contrast plant products provide most of the needs for dietary fiber. When an individual follow a diet that includes limited amounts of plant foods this will lead into insufficient daily amounts of fiber required. The lack of dietary fibber eventually results in an increased pressure and strain in the bowel, during elimination, and consequently development of diverticular disease.

Several studies point out that a diet high in vegetable foods, such as those regularly consumed in developing countries greatly minimized the chances of developing diverticular disease. It has also been identified that may be genetic component are affecting the development of diverticular disease. Another factor associated with diverticular disease is age. Diverticular disease is commonly found in individuals over the age of fifty. Generally, condition of muscle tone and repair of tissue becomes lower with age and the chronic repeated pressure and strain of the lower intestinal tract inevitably leads to the weakening of the bowel walls.

It is estimated that about one third of the population at forty years of age develop deverticular disease and about two thirds of the population at eighty years of age have diverticular disease. Those individuals already suffering form colonic mobility problems or defects in the strength of the colon wall are at higher risk of developing diverticular disease. Diverticular disease is not based on gender and both male and female alike can equally develop the condition.

The term diverticular disease is the general description of a condition that covers what is called the diverticulosis and diverticulitis stages of the disease.

a) Diverticulosis: The term refers to the diverticula presence within the colon. A person with diverticulosis may have no symptoms and it is possible that they may never develop the active stage of the condition.

b) Diverticulitis: This term describes the active stage of the disease, in which the diverticula pockets become inflamed. Current belief is that diverticulitis occurs when fecal matter is trapped in the pockets. This creates a perfect environment in which bacteria can manifest and consequently cause infection. The infection may proceed in one of four ways.

The infection may spontaneously resolve itself without medical intervention.

The infection may progress, leading to more severe complications

The infection may cause partial or complete obstruction of the bowel. This generally must be addressed via surgery.

The infection may fistulize. If the infection is not treated the site of infection will spread and consequently break through to another organ or cavity of the body, creating a tunnel or fistula

Diverticulitis does not occur in every individual with diverticulosis. In reality only a small proportion of people with diverticulosis will develop diverticulitis.

Diverticular disease can be diagnosed via one of three procedures:

1) Colonoscopy: This procedure involves a thin, lighted tube being passed through the rectum in order to obtain a thorough look at the bowel wall. This also enables the removal of small pieces of the bowel wall for further investigation via biopsy.

2) Single Contrast Barium Enema: A thin tube is passed through the rectum in order to feed a white liquid known as barium into the bowel. The presence of the barium allows for the outline the bowel wall show in an x-ray. If over activity due to presence of the disease is prevalent, the bowel wall will appear thickened.

3) Double Contrast Barium Enema: If an individual suspected to have diverticular disease an enema may be implemented to view the wall of the colon. The double contrast enema is more accurate than a single contrast enema. However, an enema is not used if there is any possibility of diverticulitis as this may increase the risk of perforation of the diverticula.

4) Water-soluble contrast enema: Another form of enema- this enables imaging of the intraluminal space and consequent diagnosis of diverticular disease.

5) Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: This procedure is less invasive as it does not required passing of a tube through the rectum. Instead a scan is used to produce a 3D image on a computer screen in which the bowel can be viewed. If possible, CT scans are used due to their high degree of accuracy in diagnosing diverticula disease and identifying the development of abscesses.

6) Ultrasonography: This test is equally as accurate and non-invasive in diagnosing acute colonic diverticulitis. Like an ultrasounds, these sound waves produce echoes which for a picture of organs and tissues inside the body on an ultrasound machine.

For those individuals diagnosed with diverticular disease, in general their diverticula will cause them no problems and they may never develop the active stage of the disorder diverticulitis. Some may develop this phase once or very rarely and will recover very quickly form the event via treatment through optimal diet and antibiotics. There are however the rare cases in which the diverticular disease and consequent diverticulitis are more severe.

Approximately ten to twenty percent of those with diverticulosis will develop the active type of the disease (diverticulitis). The exact cause of diverticulitis is not well understood. The condition can occur suddenly and without warning. Diverticular is a common health condition. You must contact your health care provider if you suspect you are suffering from diverticular disease.

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