What is diverticulosis?

This is the development of numerous tiny pockets in the colon, and is very common in those over 80 years of age but affects many people in middle age. As a person ages, pressure within the colon causes bulging pockets of tissue that push outwards from the colon walls. For most people, this condition is not troublesome. However complications occur when these pockets become infected, this is called diverticulitis, or rectal bleeding occurs.

How does it occur?

A low fibre diet can lead to small, hard stools which are difficult to pass. Over time, vigorous contractions in the colon push the inner intestinal lining outwards through cracks in the muscle wall. The pouches that develop are called diverticula.

What are the symptoms of diverticulosis?

Usually there are no symptoms except minor changes in bowel habits. If symptoms occur, they are likely to be:

How is it diagnosed?

How is diverticulitis treated?

In most people rectal bleeding stops after a short period. If the bleeding returns or persists, an artery constricting drug, such as vasopressin, directed into the bleeding area may be required.

If the condition is severe, the doctor may want to rest your bowel. To do this you will ingest food intravenously (on a drip) for a couple of weeks while antibiotics deal with the infection.

In severe cases it may be necessary to remove part of your colon and connect the remaining colon. This is only an option when all other treatments have been explored.

Can I prevent diverticular disease?

Once the diverticula are formed they are permanent. Eating a high-fibre diet is helpful in reducing or preventing their formation as well as preventing infections in the diverticula, but nuts, corn and seeds should be avoided. Signs of diverticulitis such as fever, chills and abdominal pain warrant a visit to your doctor.

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