Diverticulitis
(Diverticulosis, Diverticular Disease)

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Diverticulosis and diverticulitis facts

  • Most patients with diverticulosis (diverticular disease) have few or no symptoms.
  • Abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea, can occur with diverticulosis, which then may be called diverticular disease.
  • Diverticulosis can be diagnosed with barium X-rays, sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or CT scan.
  • Treatment of diverticulosis can include high fiber diet, and anti-spasmodic drugs.
  • When diverticulosis is associated with inflammation and infection the condition is called diverticulitis.
  • Complications of diverticulosis and diverticulitis include rectal bleeding, abdominal infections, and colon obstruction.

What is diverticulosis?

The colon (large intestine) is a long tube-like structure that stores and then eliminates waste material left over after digestion of food in the small intestine takes place. Pressure within the colon causes bulging pockets of tissue (sacs) that push out from the colonic walls as a person ages. A small bulging sac pushing outward from the colon wall is called a diverticulum. More than one bulging sac is referred to in the plural as diverticula. Diverticula can occur throughout the colon but are most common near the end of the left colon, referred to as the sigmoid colon, in Western countries. In Asia, the diverticula occur mostly on the right side of the colon. The condition of having these diverticula in the colon is called diverticulosis.

Diverticula are common in the Western world but are rare in areas such as Asia and Africa. Diverticula increase with age. They are uncommon before the age of 40, and are seen in more than 74% of people over the age of 80 years in the U.S. A person with diverticulosis usually has few or no symptoms. The most common symptoms associated with diverticulosis are abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. In some of these patients the symptoms may be due to the concomitant presence of irritable bowel syndrome or abnormalities in the function of the muscles of the sigmoid colon (diverticular disease); simple diverticula should cause no symptoms. Occasionally, bleeding originates from a diverticulum, and it is referred to as diverticular bleeding.

Picture of Diverticular Disease
Picture of Diverticular Disease

What is diverticulitis?

When a diverticulum ruptures and infection sets in around the diverticulum, the condition is called diverticulitis. An individual suffering from diverticulitis often has abdominal pain, abdominal tenderness, colonic obstruction and fever.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/18/2014

Patient Comments

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Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis) - Causes Question: What are the causes of your diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis) - Attack Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms of your diverticula attack?
Diverticulitis - Treatment Question: What was the treatment for your diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis and Diet

Medical Author Dr. Dennis Lee
Medical Editor Dr. Jay W. Marks

Viewer Question: I had a colonoscopy and was told I had "pockets" in my colon and I should not eat nuts or seeds anymore. It was not explained to me as to why. What are these "pockets" and why are nuts and seeds bad to eat?

Doctor's Response: As a person ages, pressure within the colon causes small outpouchings (sacs) that push out from the walls of the colon. A single outpouching is called a diverticulum. The plural of diverticulum (two or more outpouchings) is diverticula. Diverticula may occur throughout the colon, but they are most common near the distal end of the left colon called the sigmoid colon. People who have diverticula in the colon are referred to as having diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is very common in adults in the U. S., and most people will eventually develop them.

Most people with diverticulosis have few or no symptoms. However, when a diverticulum ruptures, bacteria (always present in the colon) spread into the tissues surrounding the colon and cause infection and inflammation, a condition called diverticulitis. A patient suffering from diverticulitis will have abdominal pain, tenderness, and occasionally a lump in the left lower abdomen. There also will be fever and an elevated white blood cell count.

Many doctors believe that seeds and nuts that are eaten can get caught in the opening to a diverticulum and increase the chance of rupture and developing diverticulitis. There is insufficient scientific evidence that seeds and nuts promote diverticulitis, however, to support dietary restrictions.

Thank you for your question.

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