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.
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 produces stool that is bulky and can move easily through the colon. A low-fiber diet can cause small, hard stools. This means it takes more pressure in the colon to move stools out of the body. This puts more pressure on the walls of the colon. 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.
How can you help prevent diverticulosis?
Eating a high-fiber diet, getting plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly may help prevent diverticulosis.
How is diverticulosis diagnosed?
In many cases, diverticulosis is discovered only when tests, such as a barium enema X-ray, a colonoscopy, or a CT scan are done to find the cause of a different medical problem or during a screening exam.
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 pass maroon or very bloody stools.
- You have new or worse belly pain.
- You have a fever.
- You have nausea or vomiting.
- You have diarrhea or constipation.
- You have unusual changes in your bowel movements.
- You have bloating.
- You cannot pass stools or gas.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.
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.