There’s a lot to know about diverticulitis. Keep reading to learn more about this growing health problem, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and expected outcomes.
What is Diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis, also called colonic diverticulitis, is an increasingly common disease affecting the lower part of the human digestive tract. It occurs when small abnormal pouches, called diverticula, develop in the muscular wall of the colon (large intestine) and then become inflamed, irritated, and/or infected.
How Common is Diverticulitis?
According to Mayo Clinic, the number of people diagnosed with diverticulitis has increased by 50 percent since the year 2000. Other research suggests the increasing incidence is even greater among younger people. One 2015 study from the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that the number of individuals aged 40 to 49 with diverticulitis increased by 132 percent between 1980 and 2007.
Annually, this condition costs the United States healthcare system more than $2 billion and is responsible for over 2.7 million visits to outpatient clinics and 200,000 inpatient hospital admissions. It’s more common in men, at least until age 60, at which point diverticulitis appears to affect women more frequently.
Diverticulosis vs Diverticulitis: What’s the Difference?
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are closely related and are both considered a type of diverticular disease, a broad term used to describe conditions affecting the colon (large intestine). However, they are not the same condition.
So, what’s the difference?
A person has diverticulosis when diverticula (singular, diverticulum) are present in their digestive tract. It’s been estimated that more than half of people aged 60 and older have diverticulosis. Most of the time, diverticula are not harmful, and diverticulosis causes only mild symptoms, if any, such as occasional bloating, constipation, and abdominal cramps.
Diverticulosis progresses into diverticulitis once these abnormal, outwardly bulging pouches become inflamed and infected (the suffix “-itis” means inflammation, after all). This inflammation can happen when stool, undigested food, and bacteria get stuck inside the diverticula. Latest research indicates this happens in fewer than 5 percent of people with diverticulosis. But that still means a lot of people are at risk for developing diverticulitis, since so many older people (and an increasing number of younger people) have diverticulosis.