Diverticulitis is a common gastrointestinal condition that affects millions of people, particularly as they age. While it’s well-established that diverticulosis, the formation of small pouches (diverticula) in the colon, becomes more prevalent with age, the question arises: does diverticulitis, the inflammation or infection of these diverticula, also worsen with age? In this blog post, we will explore the relationship between diverticulitis and aging, drawing on current research and expert opinions.
Before delving into the impact of age on diverticulitis, let’s briefly review the condition itself. Diverticulitis occurs when one or more diverticula become inflamed or infected, leading to symptoms such as abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and changes in bowel habits. It can range from mild to severe and may require hospitalization in some cases. Diverticulitis is often a complication of diverticulosis, which tends to develop gradually over time.
The Prevalence of Diverticulitis in Older Adults
Numerous studies have investigated the relationship between age and the development of diverticulitis. While diverticulosis becomes more common as people age, diverticulitis does not necessarily follow the same pattern. A comprehensive review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology in 2015 noted that although diverticulitis can occur at any age, it is most commonly seen in individuals over the age of 50. This suggests a correlation between age and the likelihood of experiencing diverticulitis.
Why Age Matters
Several factors contribute to the association between age and diverticulitis:
- Increased Prevalence of Diverticulosis: As mentioned earlier, diverticulosis is more common in older adults. Since diverticulitis often arises as a complication of diverticulosis, it follows that the risk of diverticulitis also increases with age.
- Changes in Bowel Function: Aging can bring about changes in bowel function, such as decreased motility and increased susceptibility to constipation. These changes may contribute to the development of diverticulitis, as they can lead to increased pressure in the colon and diverticula.
- Dietary and Lifestyle Factors: Older individuals may be more likely to have dietary habits that contribute to the development of diverticulitis, such as a lower intake of fiber or inadequate hydration. Sedentary lifestyles, which become more common with age, can also increase the risk of constipation and diverticulitis.
Does Diverticulitis Progressively Worsen with Age?
While age is a risk factor for diverticulitis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the condition worsens with age for everyone. Diverticulitis is highly variable, and its severity can fluctuate from one episode to another. Factors such as genetics, diet, and overall health play significant roles in determining the course of the disease.
A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology in 2019 concluded that age alone is not a reliable predictor of diverticulitis severity. Instead, the study found that comorbidities (other medical conditions), obesity, and the use of certain medications were more strongly associated with severe diverticulitis outcomes.
Management and Prevention
Regardless of age, individuals can take steps to manage and potentially prevent diverticulitis:
- Dietary Modifications: A high-fiber diet can help prevent diverticulosis and may reduce the risk of diverticulitis. Older adults should focus on increasing their fiber intake through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
- Adequate Hydration: Drinking enough water is essential to maintain healthy bowel function and prevent constipation, which can exacerbate diverticulitis.
- Regular Physical Activity: Staying active can help maintain normal bowel function and reduce the risk of constipation.
- Medical Evaluation: If symptoms suggestive of diverticulitis occur, regardless of age, prompt medical evaluation is crucial. Treatment may include antibiotics, dietary adjustments, or, in severe cases, surgery.
While diverticulitis is more commonly seen in older adults due to the increased prevalence of diverticulosis and other age-related factors, it does not necessarily get worse with age for everyone. Age alone is not the sole determinant of diverticulitis severity. Instead, a combination of factors, including genetics, comorbidities, diet, and lifestyle, influences its development and progression.
As with any medical condition, it is essential for individuals of all ages to be aware of their risk factors, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and seek medical attention if symptoms arise. A proactive approach to managing diverticulitis can help individuals enjoy a better quality of life as they age.
- Strate, L. L., & Morris, A. M. (2015). Epidemiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Diverticulitis. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 21(18), 5179–5188.
- Shabanzadeh, D. M., & Wille-Jørgensen, P. (2014). Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis. Seminars in Colon and Rectal Surgery, 25(1), 40–45.
- Bharucha, A. E., Parthasarathy, G., Ditah, I., Fletcher, J. G., Ewelukwa, O., Pendlimari, R., … & Storsve, A. B. (2019). Temporal Trends in the Incidence and Natural History of Diverticulitis: A Population-Based Study. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 114(2), 310–316.