Digestion Q&A by Dr. Lee
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.
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Last Editorial Review: 9/18/2012