Diverticulosis is a condition in which small sacs or pockets form in the wall or lining of the bowel or colon. It is a common condition in adults that becomes more prevalent as we age, and approximately 58% of adults over 60 have the condition. Most people with diverticulosis do not experience any symptoms or complications due to the condition and may never be aware that they have it.
Diverticulosis can primarily lead to two complications:
- Diverticular bleeding - caused by weak spots in the blood vessels at the diverticulum (sac opening)
- Diverticulitis - small perforations or tears in the thin-walled sacs or diverticulitis
These 2 complications usually do NOT occur at the same time. Risk of developing either is low, about 5-15% during a person’s lifetime, but your risk increases with age.
In some cases of diverticulitis, one or more of these pouches can become infected or inflamed causing severe abdominal pain, fever or a change in bowel habits. If you experience these symptoms, talk to your primary care physician or gastroenterologist. Your doctor will first start with a physical examination and may request imaging to confirm the diagnosis. Mild diverticulitis is easily treated with antibiotics and bowel rest, but severe cases may require surgery to remove damaged sections of the digestive tract.
It’s hard to predict who will have diverticulosis, and by middle ages, men and women have an equal risk of developing it. Risk factors for diverticulosis may include low fiber intake, a high-fat diet, and diets high in red meat. Physical inactivity and obesity also make complications more likely. Although commonly believed to increase your chances, seeds, nuts, and popcorn are not risk factors.
Dr. Jay Pyrtle is a gastroenterologist at LeBauer Gastroenterology and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. He completed medical school at East Carolina University School of Medicine. Dr. Pyrtle completed both his residency and fellowship at Duke University Medical Center.