Diverticulitis/Diverticulosis

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Diverticulitis / Diverticulosis

General Purpose:

Diverticula are marble-sized, bulging pouches that can form anywhere in the digestive system, however, they most often form in the large intestines. The presence of diverticula is referred to as diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is common in individuals over the age of 40, and most people never know that they even have it, as diverticula rarely cause any problems.

However, on occasion, diverticula can become inflamed or even infected, leading to severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea, and changes in bowel movements. This condition is known as diverticulitis.

The reasons why diverticulitis occurs are not well understood. Some researchers think that increased pressure within the colon causes diverticula to weaken and open up, increasing the chance of infection. Others believe that diverticula actually trap fecal matter, which can also lead to infection.

Inflammation may result due to the obstruction of blood flow to the area. Historically, doctors and researchers believed that nuts, seeds, popcorn, and other small food particles might become trapped in the diverticula and lead to diverticulitis; however, recent research has demonstrated that this is not the case.

Apart from being over the age of 40, there are only a few other known risk factors associated with an increased risk of diverticulitis. These include a diet that is low in fiber, physical inactivity, obesity, and smoking.

If left untreated, diverticulitis can result in serious complications. These include peritonitis (inflammation of the lining of the abdominal cavity), rectal bleeding, intestinal blockage, abscess, or a fistula. A fistula is an abnormal passageway that occurs between two parts of the intestines, between the intestines and the bladder or vagina, or between the intestines and abdominal walls.

Fistulas can open the door for infection and other adverse side effects. Diverticulosis can also make colon and rectal cancer more difficult to diagnose.

Research is underway to investigate both diverticulosis and diverticulitis on a number of fronts. Some researchers are investigating a potential link between diverticulosis and inflammatory bowel disease, while others are hard at work developing better treatments for managing diverticulosis.

Probiotic medications (bacteria-based medicines that are similar to the active cultures found in yogurt) are also being tested for their usefulness in treating a variety of digestive illnesses, including diverticulitis, and surgical approaches to treating diverticulitis are also being tested.

What Will Diverticulitis / Diverticulosis Clinical Trials Be Like?

The types of tests and assessments used in clinical trials for diverticulosis and/or diverticulitis will ultimately depend on the specific nature of the study. Provided below is a list of frequent procedures and tests that may be incorporated into clinical trials:

  • Physical exam and detailed medical history
  • Blood tests to look for signs of infection
  • Computed tomography (CT, or “CAT scan”): an imaging procedure that uses an x-ray machine linked to a computer to take detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
  • Barium enema X-ray: this procedure involves the use of a barium-containing enema, which coats the bowels and allows them to be more visible on x-ray.
  • Blood tests to evaluate the effectiveness or chemical properties of a medication, if you are participating in a clinical trial that is investigating the use of a new drug.
  • Pain and quality of life assessments, as well as diet, exercise and/or medication diaries, may also be required in some studies, depending on the research question being studied.

Typical Diverticulitis / Diverticulosis Clinical Trial Protocol:

Specific examples of clinical trials for diverticulitis/diverticulosis might include the following:

  • A long-term randomized clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of an anti-inflammatory medication when used to prevent diverticulitis flare-ups among individuals with diverticulosis who have had at least three prior flares. In such a study, half of the patients would be randomly assigned to receive either treatment with the anti-inflammatory medication or a placebo over a two year period.
  • A randomized clinical trial to evaluate the use of a newly-discovered probiotic bacteria (similar to the active cultures found in yogurt) in obese individuals with diverticulosis. In such a study, half of the patients would be randomly assigned to receive treatment with the bacterial medication, while the other half would be randomly assigned to receive a placebo.
  • A randomized clinical trial to evaluate if short-term (48 hour) antibiotic therapy following a diverticulitis flare-up is more effective at relieving symptoms than long-term (7 day) antibiotic therapy.
  • An observational study in which individuals who are diagnosed with diverticulosis during routine colonoscopy provide a sample of their diverticular tissue (via biopsy), a blood sample, and a fecal matter sample for analysis. Such a study would allow researchers to examine the biological samples to gain a better understanding of the nature of diverticulosis.

A brief word about randomized trials and placebos:

Many clinical trials involve the comparison of an investigational treatment to a “standard” treatment. Some studies determine which therapy a patient receives through a process known as randomization, in which patients are randomly assigned to receive either the investigational treatment or the standard treatment.

On occasion, a trial will investigate the use of a standard treatment plus a new drug or intervention, compared to standard treatment plus a placebo. Placebos are inactive or “sham” treatments that are identical in appearance to the active treatment but have no therapeutic value.

Placebos are necessary to help determine if adverse effects that occur during the clinical trial are the result of the investigational treatment or due to some other factor. They also allow researchers to measure the effects of the active treatment and observe what would have happened without it.

In rare instances where no standard therapy exists, or when a new drug or therapy is being investigated, the investigational treatment might be compared to a placebo alone (such as in the first two clinical trial examples provided above). In these types of trials, those patients who are randomized to the placebo group do not receive an active treatment.

It is important to know that placebo-only trials are only conducted when scientifically necessary and when patients have been adequately informed that they may end up receiving the placebo rather than the active treatment.

It is very important to note, however, that no one should ever participate in such a placebo trial when there is a widely available and highly effective standard treatment already in existence for their particular disease or condition.

Trial Eligibility and Medical Information Needed:

The type of clinical trial you may be eligible for often depends on many factors. Therefore, it is important to know many details pertaining to your specific diagnosis when searching for clinical trials. Examples of the details you may want to have on hand include:

  • Your history of diverticulitis
  • Any underlying illnesses you have
  • Your current medications (including aspirin), vitamins, and dietary supplements
  • Your history of treatment for diverticulitis

Suggested Search Terms:

Once you are ready to begin your search for diverticulosis / diverticulitis clinical trials, the following terms may be of use when combined with either “diverticulitis” or “diverticulosis”: “prevention,” “management,” “treatment,” “diet,” “exercise,” “disease,” “elderly,” “side effects,” “medication,” “surgery,” and “diagnosis.”

You may also find trials of interest when you search using the phrase “diverticular disease.”

Current Search Term:

“Diverticulitis/Diverticulosis”

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