Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(7):1241-1242

See related article on diverticular disease.

What is diverticular disease?

Diverticular (say: die-ver-TICK-yoo-ler) disease affects the bowel. It is caused by pouches called diverticula (say: die-ver-TICK-yoo-luh) that can form in the wall of the large intestine (see drawing).

There are several types of this disease. The most common are diverticulosis, diverticulitis, and diverticular bleeding. People with diverticulosis have pouches in the colon that may not cause any problems. Diverticulitis is when the pouches are red, hot, swollen, and painful. Diverticular bleeding comes from a blood vessel next to the pouches.

Who gets this disease and why?

This disease affects men and women and is common in older people. It occurs more often in developed countries like the United States. Most doctors think it is caused by not eating enough fiber. When you don’t eat enough fiber, pressure can build up in the bowel wall. This pressure may cause pouches to form.

How can my doctor tell if I have this disease?

Several tests can show if you have this disease. These include barium enema, flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and x-ray. In flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, a camera attached to a thin tube is passed through the rectum to look at the bowel. Often, the disease is found when tests are ordered for a different problem.

What can I expect if I have this disease?

Most people with diverticula never have symptoms. About one in every four people with this disease develops diverticulitis or diverticular bleeding. Diverticulitis can cause sores, blockages, openings in the bowel wall, or infection.

If you have this disease, your doctor may give you medicine. You may need to stay in the hospital for a short time to be given fluids. Or your doctor may recommend surgery.

How can I keep from getting this disease?

Your doctor will suggest a high-fiber diet to keep the problem from getting worse.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor.

American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

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