This factsheet is for people who have diverticular disease, or who would like information about it.
Diverticular disease is a common condition affecting your digestive system. It occurs when small pouches, called diverticula, are pushed out through the wall of your bowel.
Diverticular disease and diverticulitis are related digestive conditions that are caused by diverticula.
Most people with diverticula won’t have any problems. However, if you have symptoms caused by your diverticula, this is known as diverticular disease.
If your diverticula become inflamed and infected, this is known as diverticulitis.
Diverticular disease is very common in the Western world, and affects men and women equally. Once you reach the age of 40, your risk of getting diverticular disease increases.
If you have diverticular disease, your symptoms may include:
The symptoms of diverticulitis may be more severe and include:
You may find your symptoms begin suddenly and gradually get worse over a few days.
Asian people sometimes develop diverticula in a different part of their bowel. If you’re Asian, the pain may be in the right-hand side of your abdomen. This is thought to be hereditary.
These symptoms may be caused by problems other than diverticular disease. If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP for advice.
Complications are uncommon, but if you have diverticular disease or diverticulitis, you may develop more serious problems that include the following.
If you have any of these complications, it’s important to get them treated urgently so they don’t cause more serious problems.
Although the reason isn’t clear, it’s thought that lifestyle and diet play a part in causing diverticular disease. If you don’t have enough fibre in your diet, your faeces may become small, pellet-like and hard. This makes it more difficult for you to empty your bowel and your bowel has to contract more vigorously to expel them. This creates additional pressure inside your bowel and causes weak points to develop in the muscle. Diverticula can then form and push through these weak points.
Diverticular disease is rare in vegetarians and in people who eat enough fibre in their diet.
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history, diet and bowel movements.
Diverticular disease is sometimes difficult to diagnose because your symptoms may also be similar to those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Your GP may suggest one or more of the following tests to rule out other conditions.
Your treatment will depend on the severity of your symptoms and whether or not you have had diverticular disease before.
For all types of diverticular disease, your GP may recommend that you take paracetamol to help relieve any pain. You may be advised not to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, because these can upset your stomach and increase your risk of internal bleeding.
Your GP may also give you a bulk-forming laxative if you have constipation. Bulk-forming laxatives increase the amount of faeces you have and soften them. This makes it easier for you to empty your bowels.
Always read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine and if you have any questions, ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
If you have diverticulitis, your GP may prescribe antibiotics for the infection. You may also need to follow a fluid-only diet for a few days until your symptoms get better. You can then gradually introduce solid foods back into your diet.
If your diverticulitis is more serious, you may need to go into hospital to have antibiotic injections. You may also have a drip inserted into a vein in your hand or arm to give you fluids. Usually, you will only need to go into hospital if you:
If you have diverticular disease you won’t need surgery because you can treat your symptoms at home.
If you have diverticulitis, your GP may refer you to a colorectal surgeon (a doctor who specialises in conditions that affect the bowel) for surgery. You will usually only be referred for surgery if you have had symptoms of diverticulitis more than once. The affected part of your bowel will be removed and the remaining healthy parts will be joined together. You may also need to have surgery if you develop a complication, such as peritonitis, an abscess, fistula or a blockage in your bowel.
See our FAQs for more information.
Some examples of what you can do to help reduce your chance of getting diverticular disease are listed below.
See our FAQs for more information.
Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2012.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
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Bupa's private Cromwell Hospital's Nutrition and Dietetic Department has a team of registered dieticians that can offer tailored dietary advice based on specific medical conditions. For more info call 020 7460 5566.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
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