Diverticula are small sacs or pouches poking through the walls of the colon (see picture). They are caused by an increase pressure inside the colon and frequently some weakness in the colon wall. As we age all our tissues weaken, thus diverticular disease is much more common in older people. It is much less common in African countries where they eat a lot of fibre and also use the more natural squatting position for defecation.
Risk factors include a diet low in fibre, eating a lot of fat and red meat, reduced physical activity, obesity, and cigarette smoking.
A number of other risk factors have been suggested including caffeine and alcohol intake, but this has not been shown to be correct. Others have suggested that seeds and nuts which could potentially block the entrance to the diverticulum and therefore cause diverticulitis, should be avoided, but careful analysis has shown there is no evidence for this. (Click here)
Diverticula are common, usually cause no symptoms and are frequently seen on sigmoidoscopy or barium enemas, in up to 40% in older people some studies. They tend to cause no symptoms unless they become inflamed (diverticulitis) or bleed. Between 4 and 15% of people with diverticular disease developed diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis – the opening into the diverticulum becomes blocked and the contents of the diverticulum and surrounding walls become inflamed and infected. This can cause abdominal pain, a rise in temperature and often constipation.
Read more about what steps you or your doctor can take to lessen the effects of, or help cure this condition.
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