December 01, 2013

Diverticular disease

Fiber as therapy

Fiber as therapy

For many older adults, being told they have small pouches (diverticula) along the wall of their large intestine (colon) — diverticular disease — comes as a surprise. But it's a common surprise. It's estimated that 60 percent of Americans have diverticula by age 60, and that percentage keeps climbing with age.

Most people learn they have diverticular disease as a result of a colon exam done for another reason, such as screening for polyps and colorectal cancer. However, some people learn of their diverticular disease after a painful attack caused by the inflammation of a diverticular pouch (diverticulitis).

An attack of diverticulitis only occurs in a small percentage of people with diverticular disease. In most instances, it can be treated successfully, but complications sometimes develop that warrant hospitalization or surgery — and may even be life-threatening.

Weak spots

Diverticular pouches (diverticula) most commonly form in the last portion of the colon (sigmoid colon) before it turns into the rectum. However, among Asians, they often develop in the first part of the colon (ascending colon).

Diverticula develop at points where blood vessels run through the colon wall to supply the inner layers of colon tissue. The areas around these vessels are thought to be weak points. It's suspected that something causes an abnormality in how colon muscles propel stool through the colon. This results in increased pressure in the sigmoid colon, possibly causing weak spots to balloon out.

It's not fully understood what causes the initial colon abnormality. However, it's...