Diverticulosis

Condition Basics

What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is a condition that develops when pouches (diverticula) form in the wall of the colon (large intestine). These pouches are usually very small (5 to 10 millimeters) in diameter. But they can be larger.

In diverticulosis, the pouches in the colon wall don't cause symptoms. The condition may not be found unless symptoms occur, such as in painful diverticular disease or in diverticulitis. As many as 80 out of 100 people who have diverticulosis never get diverticulitis.footnote 1 In many cases, diverticulosis is discovered only when tests are done to find the cause of a different medical problem or during a screening exam.

What causes it?

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.

What are the symptoms?

Most people don't have symptoms. You may have had diverticulosis for years by the time symptoms occur (if they do). Over time, some people get an infection in the pouches (diverticulitis).

Your doctor may use the term painful diverticular disease. It's likely that painful diverticular disease is caused by irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Symptoms include diarrhea and cramping abdominal (belly) pain, with no fever or other sign of an infection.

How is it 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.

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.

How can you prevent it?

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

References

Citations

  1. Davis BR, Matthews JB (2006). Diverticular disease of the colon. In M Wolfe et al., eds., Therapy of Digestive Disorders, 2nd ed., pp. 855–859. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.

Credits

Current as of: February 10, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jerome B. Simon MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology