Diverticular disease is a 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.
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.
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
- blood in the stool from diverticular bleeding.
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.
If you have mild diverticulitis, you may be treated at home with antibiotics, and if necessary, mild painkillers. You may also be advised to have a low-fibre or fluid-only diet, to rest the bowel during recovery.
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.
People who have diverticula which 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 .
Diverticular disease prevention
Although the cause of diverticulosis or diverticulitis is unknown, having 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.
Last reviewed: August 2015