No one is sure why, but sometimes small sac-like pockets protrude from the wall of the colon. This is called diverticulosis. Increased pressure within the intestines seems to be responsible. The pockets (called diverticuli) can fill with intestinal waste.

Sometimes, though, the intestinal pouches become inflamed, in which case the condition is called diverticulitis.

Many older persons have diverticulosis. The digestive system becomes sluggish as a person ages. Things that increase the risk for diverticulosis include:

  • Not eating enough dietary fiber. Diverticulosis is common in nations where fiber intake is low.
  • Continual use of medicines that slow bowel action. (Examples: Painkillers and anti-depressants).
  • Overuse of laxatives.
  • Having family members who have diverticulosis.
  • Having gallbladder disease.
  • Being obese.

Signs and Symptoms

In most cases, diverticulosis causes no discomfort. When there are symptoms they are usually:

  • Tenderness, mild cramping or a bloated feeling usually on the lower left side of the abdomen.
  • Sometimes constipation or diarrhea.
  • Occasionally, bright red blood in the stools.

With diverticulitis, you can experience severe abdominal pain, feel nauseous, and have a fever. The pain is made worse with a bowel movement. If these things occur, you should see your doctor.

Treatment and Care

Diverticular disease can’t be cured, but you can reduce the discomfort, and prevent complications. Eat a diet high in fiber throughout life. You can add more fiber to your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain foods. Check with your doctor about adding wheat bran to your diet. These pass through the system quickly, decreasing pressure in the intestines. Do, however, avoid corn, seeds, and foods with seeds like figs. These are easily trapped in the troublesome pouches.

You should also drink 1-1/2 to 2 quarts of water every day. Avoid the regular use of laxatives that make your bowel muscles contract such as Ex-Lax. In fact, you should consult your doctor before taking any laxatives. If you are not able to eat a high-fiber diet, ask your doctor about taking bulk-producing laxatives like Metamucil. These are not habit-forming. Try, too, not to strain when you have bowel movements. Finally, get regular exercise.

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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