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Diverticulitis in Young People

author image Shannon Marks
Shannon Marks started her journalism career in 1994. She was a reporter at the "Beachcomber" in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and contributed to "Philadelphia Weekly." Marks also served as a research editor, reporter and contributing writer at lifestyle, travel and entertainment magazines in New York City. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in literature from Temple University.
Diverticulitis in Young People
If you're under 40, obesity can raise your risk for developing diverticulitis. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images

Diverticulitis is a disease characterized by inflamed or infected fluid-filled pouches, known as diverticula, in the digestive tract. Diverticula can form in the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and anywhere else in the digestive system, but most commonly occurs in the large intestine. Diverticulitis does not typically affect those under the age of 40. An attack in young people is often severe and may require emergency treatment and surgery to prevent complications.

About the Disease

Over the age of 40, diverticula is common and rarely causes problems, according to the Mayo Clinic. Most people are not even aware that they have the marble-sized bulging pouches in their digestive system. For those who develop diverticulitis, symptoms include sudden, severe abdominal pain; fever; nausea and vomiting; constipation, diarrhea or other bowel changes. Treatment depends on the severity of your illness. Mild diverticulitis can be treated with a temporary liquid diet, antibiotics and rest. A serious case, which can lead to a bowel obstruction, could require surgery to remove the diseased section of colon and intravenous antibiotics to kill the infection-causing bacteria.


Younger obese adults are at increased risk of developing diverticulitis and the number of younger people with the illness is rising. A 2006 study published by the "American Journal of Roentgenology" studied a group of obese individuals between the ages of 22 to 88. Age did not play a significant role in those patients who experienced complications from the disease, including hospital admissions, surgery and abscess drainage.

Delayed Diagnosis

When younger people do develop diverticulitis, it may be worse than older patients who develop the condition. A 2007 study published in the journal "Diseases of the Colon & Rectum" evaluated 58 acute-diverticulitis patients over 10 years. Seventeen percent of the patients under age 40 were identified as "young." Fifteen percent of the young patients required urgent surgery for complications associated with their condition -- a significantly larger number compared to the "over 40" age group. The researchers concluded that in young patients, the first colonic diverticulitis attack is often severe and requires emergency care. One of the disadvantages to young people, according to the study, is that doctors don't suspect diverticulitis. When the diagnosis is delayed, more complications can occur.


In 2005, researchers from the department of surgery at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut determined that surgery in young patients following an initial episode of diverticulitis was not advantageous. Physicians can successfully treat young patients with intravenous antibiotics and bowel rest. The Mayo Clinic suggests consuming 20 g to 35 g of high-fiber foods daily to help soften waste and help it pass through the colon quickly. Since fiber absorbs water, you should increase your fluid consumption. Exercise can help promote bowel function and can ease pressure in the colon.

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