In the United States, diverticulosis affects 30 percent or more of individuals over 60 years of age, and 60 percent of people over the age of 80. It is the fifth most common gastrointestinal disorder with over 200,000 hospitalizations annually. The sigmoid colon is the most common location for diverticulitis to develop but it can occur anywhere in the large intestine.
This condition is similar to an inner tube. When there is a weak area of the colon wall, parts of the colon muscle can bulge out. This is known as a diverticulosis. These weakened areas can be very small or much larger – there could be a small number or many present. The diverticula can become inflamed – a condition called diverticulitis – and cause perforations of the wall of the colon, which may lead to infection, inflammation, thickening, strictures, and abscesses.
“Diverticula tend to form as a result of a low-fiber diet and a ‘tense’ colon,” says general surgeon, Craig Kline, MD. “Contrary to popular opinion, they are not caused by eating seeds, nuts, or kernels. Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, inactivity, eating red meat, and high blood pressure.”
Can I Get Rid of Diverticulosis?
Once diverticula have formed, there is no way to make them go away. However, a high fiber diet, with plenty of liquids, can help prevent more diverticula from forming, and may help to prevent future attacks. Recommendations include 30 g of soluble fiber and 64 ounces of caffeine-free and alcohol-free beverages per day.
Will Diverticulosis Progress to Diverticulitis?
Twenty percent of people with diverticulosis will develop diverticulitis (inflammation) at some point in their life and one percent will require surgical intervention. Every attack of diverticulitis makes it more likely that another attack will follow. However, for most individuals, the first attack will be the most severe.
How Do I Know if I Have it?
Most people with diverticulosis usually don’t know they have it unless they’ve had some sort of imaging exam such as a colonoscopy or CT scan. Diverticulitis often causes abdominal pain, usually in the lower left side, and can also cause fevers, chills, diarrhea, mild blood in the stool, difficulty passing stool, and in severe cases, sepsis.
“Many of the common symptoms of diverticulitis could also be related to colon cancer,” explains general surgeon, Elizabeth Jeffers, MD. “A colonoscopy is needed after recovery from a diverticulitis episode to ensure that no cancer is missed. A colonoscopy evaluates how severe your disease is and where most of the diverticula are located.”
What if I Need Surgery?
Sometimes surgery is in the best interest of the patient if they are having ongoing recurrent pain, multiple attacks, abscesses, fistulas, strictures, or perforations. Surgery usually involves removing the segment of affected colon, and either attaching the ends of the colon together, or creating a temporary colostomy.
“A lot of times the colostomy is temporary for a short period of time until the infection can heal,” said Dr. Jeffers. “During this procedure the colon is brought through the abdominal wall onto the skin to divert the stool away from an area of severe infection. It is often done in emergency cases where a surgeon needs to remove the infected part of the colon and later go back and repair the bowels to their normal functions – usually three to six months after the initial surgery.”
Can the da Vinci Surgical System Help Me?
The da Vinci™ Xi® surgical robot allows for more difficult surgeries to be performed with minimally-invasive techniques. This type of surgery may be beneficial in colectomy surgeries for a number of reasons including:
- Reduced pain after surgery
- Quicker return of bowel function
- Lower rate of complications
- Shorter hospital stay
- Minimal scarring due to smaller incisions
“Here at Lakeland we focus on enhanced recovery process for colectomies which means we work with patients before, during, and after surgery to prepare them for the procedure, get them moving faster after surgery, and discuss things like deep breathing exercises and medications to help control pain,” said Dr. Jeffers. “We’ve found by combining a minimally invasive approach with these other steps we are able to enhance the overall surgical experience, and get patients home much quicker than ever before.”
To find a da Vinci surgeon near you, click here or call (888) 704-5540