Diverticular Disease as a Chronic Illness: Evolving Epidemiologic and Clinical Insights


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Abstract

Diverticular disease imposes a significant burden on Western and industrialized societies. The traditional pathogenesis model posits that low dietary fiber predisposes to diverticulosis, and fecalith obstruction prompts acute diverticulitis that is managed with broad-spectrum antibiotics or surgery. However, a growing body of knowledge is shifting the paradigm of diverticular disease from an acute surgical illness to a chronic bowel disorder composed of recurrent abdominal symptoms and considerable psychosocial impact. New research implicates a role for low-grade inflammation, sensory-motor nerve damage, and dysbiosis in a clinical picture that mimics irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Far from being an isolated event, acute diverticulitis may be the catalyst for chronic symptoms including abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and “post-diverticulitis IBS.” In addition, studies reveal lower health-related quality of life in patients with chronic diverticular disease vs. controls. Health-care providers should maintain a high index of suspicion for the multifaceted presentations of diverticular disease, and remain aware that it might contribute to long-term emotional distress beyond traditional diverticulitis attacks. These developments are prompting a shift in therapeutic approaches from widespread antimicrobials and supportive care to the use of probiotics, mesalamine, and gut-directed antibiotics. This review addresses the emerging literature regarding epidemiology, pathophysiology, and management of chronic, symptomatic diverticular disease, and provides current answers to common clinical questions.

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