Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticula, small pouches lining the digestive tract, become inflamed or infected. The problem usually affects people ages 40 and older. Although most people with diverticulosis don't experience any symptoms, others may have severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Because these symptoms are also commonly found in people suffering from other chronic medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and stomach ulcers, it's best to check with your doctor if you're having any of these symptoms to confirm a diagnosis and get the proper treatment.

While the causes of diverticulitis are unknown, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, one theory getting a lot of attention is that it's the result of eating a diet low in fiber. Statistics show that the disease is most common in industrialized countries, such as the U.S., England and Australia, where low-fiber diets are consumed. Fiber helps prevent constipation by making stools soft and easy to pass. Conversely, being constipated can cause straining during a bowel movement, putting increased pressure on the colon, which may cause the colon lining to protrude through the colon wall. What exactly causes the diverticular to become inflamed also isn't clear. One theory is that the increased pressure in the colon can result in a breakdown of the wall of the diverticular leading to an infection. Another is that an obstruction in the opening of the diverticulum reduces blood flow to the area, leading to inflammation.

Finding Relief

The type of treatment your doctor recommends for you will depend on the severity of the signs and symptoms of your disease. For mild symptoms, your doctor may suggest a liquid or low-fiber diet and a course of antibiotics to help kill the bacteria causing your infection. Once your symptoms subside, you can start introducing high-fiber foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables back into your diet. If you're experiencing moderate pain, you may be prescribed an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as Tylenol.

If your symptoms are more severe and frequent, hospitalization and surgery may be necessary. There are two types of surgery to treat diverticulitis, primary bowel resection in which the affected part of the colon is removed and reconnected to the healthy part of your colon and bowel resection with colostomy. In this surgery, the unaffected part of the colon is connected to a surgical opening in the abdominal wall and waste passes through the opening into a colostomy bag. The colostomy may be temporary or permanent.

Eating more fiber, drinking plenty of fluids and getting regular exercise can all help prevent or slow the progression of diverticular disease.