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Diverticulosis / Diverticulitis

What are diverticulosis and diverticulitis?

In diverticulosis and diverticulitis, pouches called diverticula form in the wall of the large intestine, or colon.

  • In diverticulosis, the pouches do not cause any pain or other symptoms.
  • In diverticulitis, the pouches get inflamed or infected and cause symptoms.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes these pouches in the colon. But they think that a low-fiber diet may play a role. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon.

Some people with diverticulosis get diverticulitis. But experts don’t know why this happens.

  • In diverticulosis, most people don’t have symptoms. But pouches sometimes bleed.
  • In diverticulitis, symptoms may last from a few hours to a week or more. They include:
    • Belly pain. This is usually in the lower left side. It is sometimes worse when you move. This is the most common symptom.
    • Fever and chills.
    • Bloating and gas.
    • Diarrhea or constipation.
    • Nausea and sometimes vomiting.
    • Not feeling like eating.

You may be able to lower your chance of getting diverticulitis. You can do this by taking steps to prevent constipation.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains every day. These foods are high in fiber.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (enough so that your urine is light yellow or clear like water). If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Take a fiber supplement, such as Citrucel or Metamucil, every day if needed. Start with a small dose, and very slowly increase the dose over a month or more.
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when having a bowel movement.

Some people avoid nuts, seeds, berries, and popcorn. They believe that these foods might get trapped in the diverticula and cause pain. But there is no proof that these foods cause diverticulitis or make it worse.

  • The best way to treat diverticulosis is to avoid constipation. (See the tips above.)
  • Treatment for diverticulitis includes antibiotics and often a change in your diet. You may need only liquids at first. Your doctor may suggest pain medicines for pain or belly cramps. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

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