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Sigmoid Diverticulosis – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on December 19, 2013

Sigmoid diverticulosis is a disorder characterized by the formation of tiny pouches called diverticula on the wall of the sigmoid colon. The sigmoid colon is a section of the large intestine which joins the rectum.

Sigmoid diverticulosis has some known links to a poor diet, aging, and other risk factors. Most individuals suffering from this condition usually do not experience any adverse symptoms. However, some patients may elicit digestive malfunction and pain. Sigmoid diverticulosis is usually treated with lifestyle changes and medications. Extreme cases may however require surgery.

Symptoms of Sigmoid Diverticulosis

Infection or inflammation of one or more diverticula is known as diverticulitis. It causes severe symptoms. Sigmoiddiverticulosis without diverticulitis may not result in any signs and symptoms. Around ten percent of individuals over 40 years and 50 percent of people above 60 years get diagnosed with sigmoid diverticulosis during tests carried out for other intestinal abnormalities.

The signs and symptoms of sigmoiddiverticulosis occur over a period of many years and usually remain unnoticed. The symptoms are generally detected when the condition begins affecting the excretory and digestive processes. Such cases of sigmoid diverticulosisare described as inflammatory, painful, and/or bleeding diverticulosis as per the intensity of the symptoms.

  • Inflammatory sigmoid diverticulosis can be identified by varied symptoms such as vomiting, constipation, fever, nausea, chills, and pain or swelling in the abdominal area. Such pain is usually felt towards the left side of the abdomen because the sigmoid colon is situated in that region.
  • Painful sigmoid diverticulosis may lead to pain in the abdomen which gets alleviated after a bowel movement or passing of gas, bloating, and constipation that is later followed by diarrhea.
  • The symptoms of bleeding sigmoid diverticulosis include bowel abnormalities, abdominal cramping later followed by a desire for a bowel movement, and elimination of maroon-colored feces that contain reddish blood clots.

All individuals who experience sudden onset of extreme pain in the abdomen, or rectal bleeding, should immediately consult a doctor as it can be a symptom of a dangerous medical complication.

Complications of Sigmoid Diverticulosis

One of the most common complications of sigmoid diverticulosis is diverticulitis. It can result in severe pain in the lower left side of the abdomen, fever, excessive urination if infection occurs next to the bladder, and nausea.Untreated cases of diverticulitis can lead to peritonitis which results in passage of waste matter from the intestines into the abdominal cavity, thereby causing serious infection and inflammation. The infection can later migrate to other areas of the body via the bloodstream and result in a deadly condition called sepsis.

Causes of Sigmoid Diverticulosis

Doctors are not aware of the exact cause of sigmoid diverticulosis. It is however believed that the condition has links to position during defecation, the diet, and age of the affected person.

  • Intake of a low-fiber diet can cause the sigmoid colon to produce strong contractions before the stools can be eliminated. This can aggravate the intestinal tissue and increase the risk to diverticula formation.
  • The connective fibers occurring in the intestines tend to weaken with an increase in the age. The resultant diminished strength of the intestines can increase the risk to development of pouches.
  • People who position themselves like being seated on a chair instead of squatting while defecating are also more likely to cause additional stress on the colon.

As sigmoid diverticulosis can be caused due to a variety of causes, which may sometimes work together in a combined manner, it can be concluded that many risk factors can increase the susceptibility to developing the condition.

  • One of the primary risk factors is consumption of a low-fiber diet. Fiber adds a lot of moisture and bulk to the stool. This reduces the need for excess strength for contraction to push it through the system, thereby facilitating safe passage of the stool across the colon.
  • Red meat is hard to digest. Therefore, consumption of excessive red meat can also increase the risk to sigmoid diverticulosis.
  • Another common risk factor for sigmoid diverticulosis development is aging. The colon wall tends to weaken with an increase in age. Aging also contributes towards development of other digestive disorders that cause intestinal irritation. All these factors eventually work together to increase the risk to sigmoid diverticulosis.
  • Obesity, smoking, and prolonged constipation are other risk factors.

Treatment of Sigmoid Diverticulosis

  • During the initial stages, sigmoid diverticulosis can be treated with changes in the lifestyle and diet, including regular exercising and intake of additional fiber. Individuals with an underlying case of diverticula should not consume foods with tiny seeds as they can get wedged in the diverticula pouches and irk them.
  • Intestinal cramping, excess gas, or pain can be alleviated with OTC pain relievers and warm compresses. Older adults should consult a doctor before consuming NSAIDs as it can result in health complications.
  • Serious cases of sigmoid diverticulosis may be treated with prescription pain killers for pain alleviation.
  • Antispasmodics may be prescribed for reducing the colon contractions.

People with recurrent instances of diverticulitis may need to undergo surgery for removal of lesions or abscesses, elimination of bowel blockages, repair of colon wall tears, or for cutting out complete sections of the intestine.

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