Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are conditions that occur in the colon. One refers to the presence of diverticula (bulging pouches in the large intestine’s inner wall), while the other is a condition in which those pockets not only exist but also become inflamed.
Here’s what you need to know about the two, including how they’re treated and how they can lead to diverticular disease.
Diverticulosis is a condition in which multiple small pouches or pockets that bulge are present in the wall or lining of the digestive tract. Diverticula found in the lower portion of the colon are associated with diverticulosis.
Diverticula are quite common, particularly in adults 60 and over. There are no clear findings on what causes the condition; however, it has been most associated with high-fat, low-fiber diets and low physical activity levels. The presence of diverticula seldom causes severe problems.
Mild symptoms of diverticulosis include:
- Swelling or bloating
- Lower abdominal cramping
Symptoms of diverticulosis are similar to other gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, IBD and gallstones. Therefore, your physician should determine whether the symptoms are caused by diverticulosis rather than other digestive conditions.
Because diverticulosis rarely causes problems, most individuals don’t usually realize they have the condition until they’re screened for other disorders, and the diverticula appear in an x-ray or colonoscopy.
After discovering the presence of diverticula, your goal will be to keep them from becoming inflamed or infected and leading to diverticulitis. Your doctor may recommend a high-fiber diet and probiotics or prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs.
If diverticulosis is the presence of diverticula, diverticulitis is the condition in which those diverticula become infected and problematic. Compared to diverticulosis, the symptoms of diverticulitis can range from mild to severe, including:
- Lower abdomen pain or sensitivity
- Lower abdomen cramping
- Fever or chills
- Rectal bleeding
For mild cases of diverticulitis, physicians typically prescribe mild antibiotics. Until symptoms improve, OTC pain medication and a low-fiber diet are best. In severe cases, your healthcare provider may insist on surgery, particularly if your condition has worsened and includes the presence of abscesses, perforations, fistulas or blockages.
Diagnosing Diverticular Disease
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis together make up diverticular disease. Diverticulitis attacks have been described as sharp pains in the lower abdomen, along with other symptoms like fever, chills and nausea. For some, the flare-ups come suddenly, while others say their symptoms are noticeable for days. In severe cases, a hospital stay with intravenous antibiotics may be necessary to manage acute pain and treat the infection.
When the warning signs of diverticulitis occur, your doctor will assess your medical history, bowel habits and symptoms and likely recommend a physical exam. If the diverticular disease is suspected, your medical expert may conduct the following tests:
- Digital rectal exam
- Abdominal ultrasound
- CT scan
Because most people with diverticulosis never feel abdominal discomfort or digestive issues, they may not realize they have the condition until they get scanned for something else, or worse, the diverticula become infected. To avoid diverticula-related complications, diverticular disease and surgery, consider getting tested.