Earlier this week, Pope Francis underwent intestinal surgery due to a severe narrowing of his colon caused by diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis happens when pouches form in the colon and become inflamed. While surgery is sometimes necessary, as was the case with the pope, Brown Surgical Associates colorectal surgeon, Dr. Steven Schechter, said the condition can often be treated with antibiotics. However, each episode can further scar and thicken the colon wall, eventually leading to a narrowing of the colon and the potential for a bowel obstruction. Further recurrences can sometimes be prevented by eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of fluids.
Dr. Schechter said diverticulitis cases are on the rise, more than doubling in the last 20 years. Between three million and five million people are diagnosed each year in the United States alone. He says obesity, diets rich in red meat and low in fiber, alcohol consumption and smoking are contributing factors to the disease.