Diverticulitis causes, risk factors and complications
What causes diverticulitis?
A direct cause is not yet entirely known among medical professionals. It is known, however, that a diet lacking in fibre has a strong connection with the formation of blisters and sacs.
A diet that is sufficient in fibre and enough water (hydration) makes for softer stools which are more comfortable to pass. A lack of this causes constipation which results in more pressure in the colon.
This pressure is believed to have a strong influence in the formation of pouches, sacs and blisters (forming when a tear or small perforation in the intestinal wall tissues occur), which then become inflamed with bacterial growth, and lead to diverticulitis. This coupled with uncoordinated movements in the colon results in the formation of the disease.
If an infection results in the further spread of inflammation, peritonitis can occur. This is an infection in the lining of the abdominal wall as a result of diverticula rupture (bacteria and other bowel contents spill into the abdominal cavity).
Risk factors and complications
Factors which place a person at risk of developing diverticulitis include:
- Lack of fibre content: This is of particular concern for countries that consume high quantities of processed foodstuffs. The average person required at least 5 servings of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans for a sufficient amount of fibre every day.
- Constipation: Strain that occurs on muscles during a bowel movement is associated with a constipated condition. Persistent constipation can create constant strain, which increases risk of inflammation or infection. Bacteria or stool can infect diverticula once formed and lead to a higher risk of diverticulitis.
- Age: Older generations are more at risk of diverticula becoming infected or inflamed. Research is still yet to determine a distinctive reason why but those between the ages of 40 and 60 do appear more prone to developing the disease. It is believed that bowel weakening during the later years may have a strong influence which contributes to the condition.
- Obesity: High body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are factors associated with pressure and inflammation in the body, which can result in diverticular bleeding or diverticulitis.
- Medication use: The use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications), steroids, opiates (opioids) and aspirin for extended periods (more than 4 times a week over a period of years).
Other influencing risk factors include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of physical activity or exercise
- A diet that is high in animal fats
An estimated 25% of diverticulitis infections can lead to the following complications:
- Peritonitis (which can also result in organ failure and blood infections if not attended to immediately)
- An abscess (pus collects in the blisters or sacs)
- Colon blockages and scarring
- Sepsis (result of infection spreading through blood)