Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis Defined

Diverticulosis is a serious condition and diverticulitis is even more so. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diverticulosis you hopefully have some understanding of what the condition is, but my experience has taught me that sometimes there is confusion over what the condition is and how it is managed or treated. 

Understanding the medical terms related to this condition will help to further understand and appreciate the medical and nutritional recommendations made for diverticular disease states.

Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are sometimes interchanged and used improperly. Looking at the two terms, you see the common root; diverticu. This root is in reference to Diverticula, which are small pouches that form through the wall of a person's colon. You can picture this as an inner tube that, when inflated, has a weak spot that bulges.
Weak spots in a person's colon can bulge in a similar fashion and most of the time without issues. However, sometimes the weak spot is weak enough to allow the lining of the intestine to poke through the wall of the colon and a small pouch is formed that is still open to the inside of the colon but extends out through the colon wall. 

The risk of this occurring increases with age, and a history of poor diet and constipation may also increase the risk of developing diverticula. A single pouch is referred to as "diverticulum", while more than one sack are called diverticula.

Please keep in mind I am explaining this in fairly simple terms because many people need to understand the basics before other aspects will make sense. If you are a medical professional reading this please keep this in mind before being too critical of my descriptions and depictions.

OK, now you know what diverticula are. Looking at the two diagnostic terms again you will see that one ends in "osis" and the other ends in "itis". This is a very important distinction because these refer to different disease states. 

The -osis ending simply means that at least a single diverticulum  diverticulosis refers to the condition of having the small pouche(s) called diverticulum. The -itis ending means inflammation and swelling are present, so diverticulitis is the term used when one or more of these pouches get infected and swell which often causes severe pain and possibly GI bleeding.

In summary, diverticulosis is when you have the "pouches" while diverticulitis is when one or more pouches gets infected and inflamed. Therefore a person with diverticula is said to have diverticulosis but if their diverticula never get infected they may never develop diverticulitis. So, why is this differentiation important? Nutrition guidelines differ in some ways between diverticulosis and diverticulitis. 

The brief description of the difference between nutritional recommendations for diverticulosis and diverticulitis is this; diverticulosis calls for a high fiber diet that provides for good hydration status while diverticulitis calls for a low fiber diet that doesn't stimulate significant effort on the part of the digestive system. Understanding the terminology will help to keep these simple and abbreviated diet recommendations clear and meaningful.

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