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Diverticular Disease

Digestive SystemAs we get older, we develop many conditions and diseases. One of them many of us will get is called diverticular disease. It's a condition of the colon and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) says that by the time people are 60, fifty percent of them have it.

What it is

There are two conditions that fall under the heading diverticular disease. They are:

Diverticulosis is a condition where there are small pouches in the colon that bulge outward, like when an inner tube pokes out of a weak spot in a tire. Those pouches, plural, are called diverticula. If you have them, you have diverticulosis.

Ten to 25 percent of the people with diverticulosis have pouches that get infected and inflamed, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). That is called diverticulitis.

It's believed that diverticular disease is caused by a low fiber diet. (Read about "Fiber and Health") It was first identified in the United States in the early 1900's. That's about the same time processed foods, low in fiber, were introduced into the American diet. It is common in the industrialized west where low fiber diets are common, but rare in Asia and Africa where high fiber vegetable diets are common, according to NIDDK.


Most people with diverticulosis don't have any symptoms. The ones that do occur can also mimic other conditions such as stomach ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (Read about "Peptic Ulcers" "Irritable Bowel Syndrome"). NIDDK and ASCRS list the following as possible symptoms:

There can also be abdominal pain, usually on the lower left side as opposed to the lower right side, which is a symptom of appendicitis. (Read about "Appendicitis") In a very few cases there can be bleeding. (Read about "Gastrointestinal Bleeding")

Diverticulitis can have many of the same symptoms; which can be accompanied by fever, chills, bloody diarrhea (Read about "Diarrhea") and more pain. If the infection isn't cleared up, it can result in complications such as abscesses and even peritonitis, which can be fatal.


ASCRS says that diverticular disease is usually treated by diet modifications. The goal is to increase the amount of fiber in a person's diet. There is some controversy about avoiding certain foods. It once was standard for doctors to advise patients to avoid foods that had difficult to digest residue, that includes foods with seeds, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, nuts and popcorn. The concern was, and is, that those seeds and undigested portions could become trapped within the diverticula and trigger inflammation and infection. However, no scientific data support this treatment measure, according to NIDDK. Decisions about diet should be made, in consultation with your healthcare provider, based on what works best for each person.

Treatment for diverticulitis requires first clearing up the infection, usually with antibiotics. (Read about "Antibiotics") Medications are sometimes used to help manage cramps and bowel habits.

Surgery is considered a last resort by both NIDDK and ASCRS and is used to remove the severely damaged portion of the colon.

The best way to delay and maybe even prevent diverticular disease according to NIDDK is to eat more fruit and vegetables along with other foods high in fiber.

Related Information:

    Digestive System

    Fresh vs Frozen

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