Diverticulosis is a condition that affects the large intestine. It causes small pouches to form along the lining of the intestine and push through the intestinal wall. It is very common and often does not cause any symptoms.

Diverticulosis is very common in the United States, where 1 out of 10 people over the age of 40 years have it. Many individuals do not know they have the condition.

Diverticulosis is different from diverticulitis, which occurs when the pouches become infected or inflamed. This can cause complications and requires treatment as soon as possible.

In this article, we will look at what diverticulosis is, including its symptoms, causes, and prevention.

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Diverticulosis is a type of diverticular disease. It causes colonic diverticula, which are bulges that form and push out of the intestinal wall, creating a small pocket.

Diverticula are present all along the digestive tract, from the esophagus, or food pipe, to the colon. Most people are born with these bulges, and some individuals develop more of them over their lifetime.

Colonic diverticula commonly appear where there are weak spots in the colon. They often develop on the left side of the intestine, and in most cases, they measure between 0.2 and 0.4 inches. Other names for colonic diverticula include bulges, sacs, pouches, and pockets.

Although colonic diverticula are not harmful, they can sometimes become infected. Health experts refer to inflammation or infection of these diverticula as diverticulitis.

Many people with diverticulosis do not experience any symptoms. The pouches are usually harmless and often do not cause discomfort. Therefore, most individuals with diverticulosis do not know they have the condition.

People who do have symptoms may experience:

Doctors do not know what causes diverticulosis, but there are some potential factors that might contribute to it. They include:

  • Age: People of any age can have colonic diverticula, but older adults are more likely to have them. The number of pouches, along with their size, increases over time.
  • Tobacco: An older 2011 study found that smoking fewer than 15 cigarettes per day increases the risk of diverticulosis by 34%. For people smoking more than 15 cigarettes per day, the risk was 86% higher.
  • Alcohol: Some research suggests alcohol increases the risk of diverticulosis. However, a 2017 meta-analysis examining six previous studies found no connection between alcohol consumption and diverticulosis or diverticular bleeding.
  • Genetic predisposition: Research indicates that people with a family history of diverticulosis are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Low fiber diet: Some experts believe that straining during bowel movements may create pressure, which could result in the formation of pouches. As fiber keeps stools soft, a low fiber diet could make this more likely. However, there is no conclusive evidence that a lack of fiber in a person’s diet contributes to diverticulosis.

Diverticulosis often does not cause symptoms, and therefore, doctors do not always know that a person has it.

They may suspect diverticulosis if someone has mild symptoms or if they perform other diagnostic tests that reveal it. For example, a doctor may find diverticulosis while performing a routine colonoscopy.

A doctor may suspect diverticulosis based on:

They may confirm this by performing a CT scan, an X-ray, or a colonoscopy.

If the doctor suspects a person may have diverticulitis, they may request further tests.

Although the diverticula will not go away on their own, they are not harmful and therefore do not usually need treatment. Instead, a doctor may recommend measures that can reduce the risk of the condition progressing to diverticulitis.

If, however, diverticulitis develops, a person will need treatment. If this happens, doctors will rule out other gastrointestinal conditions first, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or appendicitis.

Treatment for diverticulitis involves taking antibiotics to get rid of the infection. Pain relief medications may help alleviate cramping.

It is unclear whether diverticulosis is preventable. However, it is a common condition that often does not cause any harm.

People may be able to take steps to lower their risk of developing diverticulitis. These include:

  • eating high fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • drinking plenty of water
  • engaging in physical activity, as an older 2009 study suggests that this decreases the risk
  • avoiding smoking

If individuals experience mild diverticulosis symptoms, they can alleviate pain with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, it is important to avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, as they can cause gut irritation.

Diverticulosis is usually not a cause for concern. It is very common, and in most cases, it does not progress to diverticulitis.

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, less than 5% of people with the condition develop diverticulitis. However, the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research estimates this to be 10–25%.

Preventive lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of this happening.

People should seek medical advice if they are experiencing any of the following:

These symptoms may indicate diverticulitis.

It is important to seek medical attention for diverticulitis quickly, as without treatment, it can cause complications. These include:

Diverticulosis is a very common condition that affects the large intestine. Age and genetics can increase the likelihood of having colonic diverticula. Some lifestyle factors, such as smoking, also play a role.

The condition usually causes no symptoms and is typically not harmful. However, diverticulosis can develop into diverticulitis if the pouches become infected.

Consuming sufficient amounts of fiber, staying hydrated, and keeping active may reduce the risk of diverticulosis progressing. A doctor can provide advice on how to prevent this and monitor for any changes.