Diverticular disease refers to digestive conditions that cause small bulges or sacs (diverticula) to develop in the large intestine. Symptoms are minor, if any, and almost don’t require any immediate medical care. However, if diverticula becomes infected or inflamed, a colon surgery might be required.
The exact cause of diverticular disease is unknown, but many believe that a diet low in fibre and high in red meats is a major contributing factor. Such diets lead to hard stools and constipation which, in turn, may cause overstraining during bowel movements.
A colonoscopy is the most effective way to diagnose whether you have diverticular disease or other digestive conditions that display similar symptoms. This involves inserting an optical tube with a camera attached through the rectum and into the abdomen. Images of the intestinal tract will then be projected onto a viewing monitor.
Additionally, your colorectal surgeon may recommend a CT scan and blood tests to further confirm the presence of diverticula.
For mild to moderate cases, your colorectal surgeon may prescribe a liquid diet until your symptoms subside. Once the symptoms have resolved, you can then start on a high-fibre diet.
Paracetamol and antibiotics may also be prescribed to relieve pain and treat infections. For more severe diverticulitis, colon surgery is an option. The procedure will usually involve removing part of the infected colon and clearing the area of any infections (abscess).
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), meanwhile, refers to conditions that cause inflammation in the digestive tract. The two most common IBDs are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Left untreated, IBD can lead to life-threatening complications.
Similar to diverticular disease, the cause of inflammatory bowel disease is unknown. While diet and stress may aggravate the condition, they do not contribute to its development. One commonly-accepted theory is that it is caused by a malfunction or overreaction of the immune system, which results in the cells in the digestive tract being attacked during bacterial infections.
Symptoms vary depending on the area affected and the severity. Common signs include:
A colonoscopy is the most effective tool used to diagnose inflammatory bowel disease. Depending on the area of the colon suspected of inflammation, your colorectal surgeon may recommend an enteroscopy or sigmoidoscopy.
Blood and stool exams, and imaging tests (X-ray, CT scan and MRI) may also be conducted to rule out other conditions and complications such as perforations in the colon.
Your colorectal surgeon may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), antibiotics and immune suppressors to reduce inflammation and prevent further complications. A high-fibre diet is also recommended to prevent stress in the digestive tract and facilitate smooth bowel movements.
For severe inflammatory bowel disease, colon surgery may be required. This may involve removing part or all of the small or large intestine.
Dr Dennis Koh is an experienced colorectal surgeon in Singapore experienced in the treatment of diverticular disease and inflammatory bowel disease. He also specialises in the management of colorectal conditions such as piles, hernias and colorectal cancer. For enquiries and appointments, contact us at +65 6262 1226 today.