Diverticular Disease

Diverticular Disease Q & A

What is diverticular disease?

As you get older, it’s common for small pouches called diverticula to form in the wall of your digestive tract, usually your colon. Diverticular disease refers to a group of conditions that involve the formation of diverticula.
Diverticula don’t necessarily cause symptoms or complications, and many people don’t realize they have the condition. Diverticulosis simply means diverticula have formed in your digestive tract, but they cause minimal or no problems. Symptoms of diverticulosis are fairly mild when they do occur, and can include cramping and bloating.
In some people, the pouches become inflamed or infected, leading to a condition called diverticulitis that causes more serious symptoms. Also, blood vessels leading to the pouch may burst, causing a condition called diverticular bleeding. Signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Severe, persistent pain in one side of your abdomen, usually the lower left side
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Change in bowel habits (constipation or, less frequently, diarrhea)

Diverticulitis can be chronic or acute. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications, including abscesses or blockages in your digestive tract.

What causes diverticular disease?

The exact cause of diverticular disease is unknown, but a common theory is that diverticula form in weakened places in the wall of your digestive tract in response to pressure.
Possible risk factors for diverticular disease include:

  • Diet: Eating lots of animal protein and not enough fiber places additional pressure on your digestive tract during bowel movements and may cause pouches to form
  • Age: Diverticulosis is uncommon before age 40 and becomes increasingly likely as you get older
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of diverticular disease
  • Lifestyle: Smoking tobacco and not exercising appear to increase your risk of diverticulitis

It’s not clear why diverticula lead to symptoms and complications in some people and not in others.

How is diverticular disease treated?

Treatment for diverticular disease depends in part on the severity of your symptoms. As a preventive measure, the doctors may recommend you eat a diet low in animal protein and high in fiber, and drink lots of water. This helps you pass stools more easily and reduce the pressure you put on your bowels, decreasing the chances of inflammation.
Diverticulitis usually responds to a course of antibiotics. The doctor may also recommend a liquid diet to allow your colon to heal, and over-the-counter pain relief medication to manage discomfort. If you have severe, repeated attacks of diverticulitis, your doctor may advise surgery to remove the infected part of the organ.