Diverticulosis and diverticulitis

What are diverticulosis and diverticulitis?

'Diverticulum' is a medical term, based on the Latin word for a 'pouch', that describes the presence of an indentation in the wall of the intestine. This is in fact a small hernia - not quite a hole, but a hollow in the wall of the bowel. Diverticulosis is the term that describes the presence of many of these, and where these become infected and inflamed, this is termed diverticulitis.

Together the two conditions are known as 'diverticular disease'. In fact many people have diverticulosis and have no symptoms at all and in most cases this is not a problem from a medical point of view. Half of all Australians aged over 70 have diverticular disease and about a third of people over 45.

What causes diverticulosis?

It is believed that the main cause of diverticulosis is a diet low in fibre, and this is borne out by the very low incidence of the disease amongst vegetarians and in those parts of the world where a high fibre diet is normal, such as large parts of Asia and Africa. It may be because low fibre content in the bowel makes passing stools (ie going to the toilet) more difficult and requires more pressure inside the bowel which creates these small pouches in the lining.

What are the symptoms of diverticulosis?

Diverticulitis, that is the infection/inflammation of the diverticula, may cause the following symptoms...

  • Bleeding in or from the bowel
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Night sweats or chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Pain on the left side of the stomach

A CT scan or colonoscopy are generally the only ways to assess and diagnose diverticular disease.

How is diverticular disease treated?

Diverticulitis often passes without the need for treatment. In some cases a treatment of antibiotics may be necessary, however if pain persists or gets worse, or if any fever continues, there may be an abscess or a rupture in the bowel lining, in which case emergency surgery may be required.

To prevent progression your doctor will advise you to ensure the diet is rich in fibre and take measures to avoid constipation. There is no evidence to support the avoidance of food containing seads or nuts.