Diverticulosis is a condition in which small, sac-like pouches protrude out of the colon wall. These pouches are called diverticula and are incredibly common. About 60% of people will develop diverticulosis by the time they reach age 60. Once formed, these pouches do not go away. Diverticulosis is frequently found during a routine screening colonoscopy. For most people, diverticulosis will never cause any symptoms and does not need further monitoring or medical treatment. Complications of diverticulosis are called diverticular disease and include diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding.
Diverticulitis is a more serious but less common condition in which diverticula become inflamed and infected. An inflamed diverticulum typically causes pain in the left lower abdomen. It can also cause nausea, vomiting and fever. Diverticulitis is treated with antibiotics and rarely requires more advanced intervention such as surgery.
Diverticular bleeding occurs when an artery in a diverticulum bleeds. This causes painless bleeding from the rectum with maroon or red blood in the stool. This bleeding will often stop on its own, but may need colonoscopy for treatment. Bleeding generally does not occur with diverticulitis.
Eating a high fiber diet, maintaining a normal weight, being physically active, and avoiding smoking can decrease the risk of diverticular disease. Fiber intake of at least 25 grams a day is a good goal. Although some people recommend avoiding seeds, nuts, and popcorn there is not good evidence that such avoidance is beneficial in preventing complications of diverticulosis.
Meghan Jankowski, MD