Diverticular disease is a common condition where small bulges or pockets form in the wall of the large intestine. These pockets are called diverticula and often do not cause any symptoms. Diverticular disease is linked to a low-fibre diet, and is more common as people age. One in 3 Australians aged over 45 have diverticular disease.
What is diverticulitis?
People who have diverticula that are not swollen or infected are said to have diverticulosis. Many people with diverticulosis do not experience any discomfort or symptoms.
However, some people may have symptoms such as mild cramps, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea. If you have such symptoms, you should see your doctor. Diverticulosis is usually diagnosed during bowel cancer screening or screening for gut problems.
Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticula become inflamed or infected, caused by bacteria trapped inside one of the bulges. This can lead to complications, such as an abscess next to the intestine.
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
The most common symptom of diverticulitis is pain, which can be mild or severe, on the lower left-hand side of the abdomen.
Other symptoms may include:
- nausea or vomiting
- a change in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhoea
- feeling bloated
- blood in the stool from diverticular bleeding
- mucus in the stool
The symptoms may be mild to severe, depending on the extent of the infection and complications. Other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, have similar symptoms. See your doctor if you have such symptoms.
See your doctor immediately if you have:
- very severe abdominal pain
- a fever
- start vomiting
- feel very unwell
- have blood in your poo
How is diverticulitis diagnosed?
How is diverticulitis treated?
If you have mild diverticulitis, you may be treated at home with bowel rest by having a low fibre or fluid only diet. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, and if necessary, mild painkillers.
If you have severe diverticulitis, you may need to be admitted into hospital and given antibiotics and fluids through your vein, and stronger painkillers. Most people improve with treatment. However, people who do not improve with treatment or who develop rare complications may require surgery.
How is diverticular disease prevented?
Although the cause of diverticulosis or diverticulitis is unknown, a low-fibre diet increases your chances of developing diverticular disease. A high-fibre diet helps to prevent constipation and formation of diverticula. Exercising regularly and drinking enough water (up to 8 cups a day) are also recommended.
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Last reviewed: March 2020