Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. They are found most often in the colon. Diverticula are common, especially after age 40, and usually do not cause problems. An estimated 65 percent of the population is affected by the age 80. Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of the diverticula become inflamed or infected.
The signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- Tenderness or pain in the lower left abdomen
- Bloating or gas
- Nausea and vomiting
- Not feeling hungry and not eating
Diverticula develop when areas of your colon give way under pressure. This causes pouches to protrude through the colon wall. Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula tear, resulting in inflammation or infection. Factors that may increase risk include:
Because abdominal pain can indicate a number of problems, your Northeast Digestive Health Center provider will often diagnose diverticulitis by first ruling out other causes of abdominal pain. This will likely begin with a physical exam. Additional tests may include:
- Blood and urine tests to check for signs of infection
- Stool tests and liver function tests to rule out more serious conditions
- CT scan, which can indicate infected pouches and confirm a diagnosis
Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the symptoms. If mild, you may be treated at home, in which case your doctor is likely to recommend:
- Antibiotics, to treat infection
- A liquid diet while your bowel heals
- An over-the-counter pain reliever
If you have a severe attack or other health problems, you'll likely need to be hospitalized for treatment – typically involving intravenous antibiotics.
Frequently Asked Questions About Diverticular Disease
Our gastroenterologists in Concord frequently answer questions about diverticular disease. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers.
What is diverticular disease?
Diverticular disease develops when otherwise harmless diverticula lead to chronic symptoms, diverticulitis, diverticular bleeding, or other diverticular problems.
What are the main types of diverticular disease?
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are the two main types of diverticular disease. Diverticulosis is the presence of one or more diverticula. These tiny bulges in the colon do not usually cause symptoms or need treatment, but they can lead to diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis is the inflammation and infection of one or more diverticula. This type of diverticular disease can cause pain, nausea, fever, and other symptoms. This type of diverticular disease is more serious and potentially dangerous.
How common is diverticular disease?
Diverticular disease is common in Western populations, particularly in older adults. About 10 percent of people over the age of 40 have diverticulosis, for example, while about half of all people over the age of 60 have this type of diverticular disease.
Who is most likely to develop diverticular disease?
Everyone is more likely to develop diverticular disease, such as diverticulosis and diverticulitis, as they age.
Does what I eat and drink affect my chances of developing diverticular disease?
Research suggests that eating a diet high in red meat and low in fiber may increase your chances of developing diverticulitis. Dietary fiber softens your stool, helps prevent constipation, and helps decrease the pressure inside your colon that can lead to diverticular flare-ups. Increasing your intake of fiber and eating less red meat may lower your risk for diverticular disease.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories you consume. If you normally eat a 2,000-calorie diet, for example, you should consume 28 grams of dietary fiber every day.