Gut bacteria (green) in a section of colon. Our changing diet, hygiene practices and medical therapies can alter the microbes that live on and inside us—in good and bad ways.
Credit: S. Melanie Lee, Caltech; Zbigniew Mikulski and Klaus Ley, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Diverticulitis, a condition that can cause severe and sudden pain in the abdomen, affects the digestive system.
This disorder results when portions of the digestive tract called diverticula get infected or inflamed. Diverticula are small bulges or pouches that can form in the intestines, esophagus and stomach — anywhere within the digestive system.
The condition of having diverticula — which occur most commonly in the large intestine, or colon — is known as diverticulosis. Diverticula usually develop in response to pressure on weak spots in the colon or other parts of the digestive tract. Doctors aren't sure, though, why these pouches get inflamed or infected.
According to one theory, pressure may increase in the digestive tract, particularly the colon, weakening the pouches' walls. This allows an infection to take place. Infection could also result when fecal matter gets trapped inside openings in the diverticula.
Finally, various types of obstruction can block the pouches' openings. This would reduce blood supply, causing inflammation.
The first symptom of diverticulitis is usually a sudden, sharp pain in the left side of the abdomen. Sometimes, however, the pain can start mildly and increase gradually over a few days.
Diverticulitis also comes with a number of other symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and a change in how frequently you have a bowel movement. You may also feel bloated or have tenderness in the abdomen.
For mild cases of diverticulitis, people usually only need to change what they eat to a low-fiber, liquid diet, and possibly take antibiotics (for the diverticulum infection). Fiber and solid foods can gradually be added back into the diet, and symptoms will improve over about three days.
Severe cases of diverticulitis may cause bowel obstruction and require hospitalization. There, doctors may prescribe intravenous antibiotics or even perform surgery to remove the infected portion of the intestines.