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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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March 2003

Q. My mother was recently diagnosed with diverticulitis. I find this hard to understand since she never had constipation. The woman desperately has to have a bowel movement after every meal. We can not eat and then go out, in fear there will be no restroom available. Is this really diverticulitis or more like irritable bowel syndrome? This condition occurs every time without fail. Everything I've read about diverticulitis is the opposite of my mother. Should I be concerned that she has been diagnosed incorrectly?

A. A diverticulum is a pouch that develops in the large intestine (colon) that is very common with aging. Estimates are that by age 60, 50% of Americans will have one or more diverticula, and by age 80, 100% will have diverticula. Diet is thought to play a role as the condition is uncommon in countries which have a high fiber diet (lots of fruits, vegetables, grains) and common in those with typically low fiber diets.

Ten to twenty-five percent of persons with diverticulosis (pouches present) are likely to develop diverticulitis in which the pouches become inflamed or infected. Diverticulitis commonly causes pain which may be associated with nausea, vomiting, or fever. This can be quite serious due to infection, bleeding, bowel obstruction, and other conditions. Initial diagnosis is made by an exam of the colon via x-ray or colonoscopy, and treatment is based on the severity and extent of complications. The high fiber diet is the best bet for prevention of complications.



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