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Digestive Health

Diverticulitis Patients Suffer Symptoms Long After Attack

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles interviewed people with diverticulitis and confirmed that many suffer psychological and physical symptoms long after their acute illness has passed.

A release from the university explains that for the study, published in July 2014 in the peer-reviewed journal Quality of Life Research, a UCLA team led by Dr. Brennan Spiegel interviewed patients in great detail about the symptoms they experience weeks, months or even years after an acute diverticulitis attack. Their striking findings add to growing evidence that, for some patients, diverticulitis goes beyond isolated attacks and can lead to a chronic condition that mimics irritable bowel syndrome.

As they age, most people develop diverticulosis, a disorder characterized by the formation of pouches in the lining of the colon. More than 50 percent of people over 60 have the condition, but the pouches usually don’t cause any problems. Occasionally, however, the pouches become inflamed, leading to a related disorder called diverticulitis, which causes pain and infection in the abdomen. Doctors usually treat diverticulitis with antibiotics, or in more severe cases, surgery.

The condition has long been thought to be acute with periods of relative silence in between attacks, but according to researchers, that’s not true for everyone. Some patients experience ongoing symptoms.
In an earlier study, Spiegel and colleagues found that people suffering from diverticulitis have a four-fold higher risk of developing IBS after their illness, a condition called post-diverticulitis irritable bowel syndrome, and that patients had anxiety and depression long after the initial attack. However, that study was based on a database of more than 1,000 patients and did not draw from personal testimonials from people living with diverticulitis.

In the latest research, patients described feelings of fear, anxiety and depression, and said they had been stigmatized for having the condition. Interviewees also said they live in constant fear of having another attack, are scared to travel and feel socially isolated. In addition, many patients continue to experience bothersome physical symptoms such as bloating, watery stools, abdominal pain, incomplete evacuation and nausea.

The release quotes Spiegel, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the Fielding School of Public Health, as saying, “We dug deeper into identifying the chronic physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms that can profoundly change people’s lives after an attack of diverticulitis,” “Our findings reveal that many people suffer silently with severe quality-of-life problems long after an acute diverticulitis attack.”

The researchers used those insights to develop a questionnaire to help doctors better assess the long-term impact of diverticulitis, which ultimately could lead to better understanding and management of the disease.

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