Your browser is not supported. Please upgrade to a modern browser in order to use all the features of the UKHC web application: Firefox | Chrome | Microsoft Edge
Skip to main content
close menu
close menu

Search UK HealthCare

Diverticulosis

Diverticulosis is a condition in which pouches called diverticula form in the wall of the large intestine (colon). The pouches may not cause any symptoms, or they may bleed or become painful, inflamed, or infected.

The reason pouches (diverticula) form in the colon wall is not completely understood. Doctors think diverticula form when high pressure inside the colon pushes against weak spots in the colon wall. These pouches are usually very small (5 to 10 millimeters) in diameter but can be larger. They become more likely with age. They are found most often in the colon. But diverticula can be found in nearly all parts of the digestive tract.

Most people don't know they have diverticulosis. If diverticulosis isn't causing any problems, it may not need to be treated. If diagnosed, it is usually managed by increasing the amount of fiber in the person's diet and avoiding constipation.

  • Causes

    What causes diverticulosis?

    The reason pouches (diverticula) form in the colon wall is not completely understood. Doctors think diverticula form when high pressure inside the colon pushes against weak spots in the colon wall.

    Normally, a diet with adequate fiber (also called roughage) produces stool that is bulky and can move easily through the colon. If a diet is low in fiber, the colon must exert more pressure than usual to move small, hard stool. A low-fiber diet also can increase the time stool remains in the bowel, adding to the high pressure.

    Pouches may form when the high pressure pushes against weak spots in the colon where blood vessels pass through the muscle layer of the bowel wall to supply blood to the inner wall.

  • Prevention

    How can you help prevent diverticulosis?

    Eating a high-fiber diet, getting plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly may help prevent diverticulosis.

  • Diagnosis

    How is diverticulosis diagnosed?

    In many cases, diverticulosis is discovered only when tests, such as a barium enema X-ray or a colonoscopy, are done to find the cause of a different medical problem or during a screening exam.

  • Treatment

    How is diverticulosis treated?

    The best way to treat diverticulosis is to avoid constipation. Here are some ideas:

    • Include fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains in your diet each day. These foods are high in fiber.
    • Drink plenty of fluids.
    • Get some exercise every day. Try to do moderate activity that adds up to at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity that adds up to at least 1¼ hours a week.
    • Take a fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, every day if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when you are having a bowel movement.

    This treatment may help reduce the formation of new pouches (diverticula) and lower the risk for diverticulitis.

  • When to call

    Diverticulosis: When to call

    Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

    • You have belly pain.
    • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
    • You have a fever.
    • You have nausea and vomiting.
    • You have unusual changes in your bowel movements or abdominal swelling.
    • You have burning pain when you urinate.
    • You have abnormal vaginal discharge.
    • You have shoulder pain.
    • You have cramping pain that does not get better when you have a bowel movement or pass gas.
    • You pass gas or stool from your urethra while urinating.

    Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

  • Self-care

    How can you care for yourself when you have diverticulosis?

    • Include fruits, leafy green vegetables, beans, and whole grains in your diet each day. These foods are high in fiber.
    • Take a fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, every day if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
    • Cut out foods that cause gas, pain, or other symptoms.

    Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.