Also known as:
Pūtautau i te whēkau
Diverticula are little out-pouchings or pockets which occur in the bowel wall. If you have lots of these little pockets it is called diverticulosis.
Diverticulosis is very common as you get older - as many as 50% of people have diverticulosis by aged 65, and this percentage increases with age.
In a small proportion of people these pouches can become infected, inflamed, or rupture. This is known as diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis causes abdominal pain, fever, bowel obstruction, and bleeding from the bowel and is often a medical emergency.
Diverticular disease is usually diagnosed with a colonoscopy, where a doctor looks at the inside of a patient’s bowel with a camera inserted through their bottom.
What causes diverticular disease?
We don’t fully understand why diverticula form in the bowel. Genetics play a role, and a low-fibre diet may increase the rate of diverticula formation.
Diverticula usually exist without causing any trouble. This is called diverticulosis.
When a diverticula gets blocked, infected, or ruptures, it becomes inflamed and causes significant illness. This is called diverticulitis, which is medically serious and can be very painful.
Most people who have diverticulosis don’t present with any symptoms.
People who have diverticulitis, on the other hand, may have:
Severe abdominal pain and cramps
Fever & chills
Nausea and/or vomiting
In more serious cases, there may also be intestinal obstruction, bleeding from the bowel, or sepsis (blood infection)
People who have diverticulosis (uninflamed pouches), usually just need to increase the fibre in their diet. This may cause some discomfort initially as the bowel gets used to it, so it’s a good idea to introduce the fibre gradually.
Diverticulitis can be a serious illness, and sometimes requires admission to hospital for intravenous antibiotics, pain relief, IV fluids and bowel rest. In extreme cases, parts of the bowel may need to be repaired or removed surgically, but this is uncommon.
Sometimes diverticulitis, especially if it is chronic and recurring, can be managed in the community by your GP with pain relief, anti-spasmodic medication and antibiotics.
Anti-inflammatories, pain relief, anti-spasmodics, and antibiotics may be prescribed to someone with diverticulitis.
How long does diverticular disease last?
Diverticulosis disease is a long-lasting condition that is usually managed with diet.
Should I see a doctor?
Abdominal pain along with fever and chills could indicate diverticulitis. If you experience these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
Increasing your fibre intake is a good way to slow down the development of diverticular disease.
Is there a cure for diverticular disease?
No, it’s one of those things that most people will get to some degree as they age. But only a small proportion of people will actually develop symptomatic diverticulitis.
Once you have diverticulitis, are you more likely to get it again?
Yes, unfortunately having had diverticulitis significantly increases the likelihood of you getting it again.
Which specialist should I visit?
Nutritional requirements when infected
Often diverticular disease can be managed by increasing fibre intake. Good examples of foods that contain fibre include:
Whole grain cereals
It’s recommended that a person should eat at least five servings of fruit or vegetables a day.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Clinically reviewed by: Dr Mataroria Lyndon
Date of review: 18th July 2022