Frequently Asked Questions

What is the cause of diverticulosis?

It is thought that lack of fibre in the diet may cause small stool size and high pressure contractions inside the colon. The inner lining then is pushed out through weak spots in the muscle, causing a pouch or a sac (diverticulum).

What is diverticular bleeding?

Bleeding occurs less often than diverticulitis and is not related to episodes of diverticulitis. Often patients do not have symptoms before bleeding occurs. There may be fresh red blood or altered darker blood. Pain is not frequent but cramps can occur. All patients with bleeding need to be investigated to rule out other causes of bleeding. Patients with major bleeding or those who feel light-headed should go to the emergency department. Bleeding often stops on its own but still should be investigated. Most patients do not have further bleeding but in some it may recur. Patients with, recurrent episodes often require surgery.

My mom is 65. I heard that she is at increased risk of developing diverticular disease. Is this true?

The risk for symptomatic diverticular disease is negligible for 35 year olds or younger. However, at age 55 the risk increases by a factor of 10 and at 75 years the risk increases to 40%.  50% of Canadians over the age of 80 years develop diverticular disease. At present, there are no known risk factors other than advanced age.

What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is an infection in the diverticulum. This complication occurs in a few patients with diverticulosis. Men and women are affected equally. The resulting infection can be mild, leading only to abdominal pain; or severe, with diffuse infection or sometimes the development of an abscess (a pocket of pus). There is usually fever and an elevated white cell count in the blood. With healing there can be scarring, leading to bowel narrowing and obstruction. Fortunately, severe episodes account for less than one-quarter of all episodes of diverticulitis.

I heard that a person can die from diarrhea. Is that true?

Fluid and electrolytes help our bodies function. If we are dehydrated, water and electrolytes are lost and need to be replaced. If a person is severely dehydrated because of diarrhea, they can die.  This is why it is important – particularly for children and the elderly – to seek medical attention if they have diarrhea that stretched over into a second day, have severe abdominal pain or cramping, fever or show signs of dehydration.

I am travelling to a developing country and am afraid of developing traveller’s diarrhea. What can I do to protect myself?

People who visit foreign countries are at risk for traveler’s diarrhea, which is caused by eating food or drinking water contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Although there are antibiotic prophylaxis available, they are not recommended in most cases.  While you are travelling, wash your hands with warm, soapy water, drink bottled water and eat food that are served warm and cooked thoroughly.  Try to avoid tap water (including ice), dairy products, raw vegetables, uncooked meats, and seafood.  Foods that are usually safe to drink include hot coffee and tea, beer, wine and carbonated beverages. Fruits and vegetables that can be peeled are generally safe to eat.

Will a cleansing enema program help me?

There is no evidence that there is a build-up of harmful toxins in the bowel when one has an irregular bowel pattern. The most important factor in treating irritable bowel syndrome is what you do on a daily basis including eating, physical exercise and stress management.

How often should I have a bowel movement?

It is important to realize that the frequency of bowel movements varies from person to person. Some people may empty their bowels several times a day while others may only have a bowel movement once every few days. Whatever is normal for you, is fine.  You should take note however, when your bowel patterns change.

How is colon cancer prevented?

It is now well established that effective colon cancer screening using stool tests, sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer. These screening methods lead to detection and removal of polyps and small cancers that can be easily removed. The use of screening is critical to the prevention of colon cancer.

Am I going to die if I am diagnosed with colon cancer?

Survival is closely linked with the stage of the disease at the time of surgery. When cancers are still localized to the bowel, the 5-year survival rate is very good -- about 85-95%. Unfortunately, by the time colon cancer causes advanced symptoms, most cancers have spread beyond the bowel and the survival rate is less than 40%. Screening, therefore, is designed to detect and remove polyps early while they are can be completely removed.

Enhancing lifelong health

The Canadian Digestive Health Foundation believes our ability to help establish, enrich and protect a healthy gut microbiota is the key to lifelong health