Diverticulosis refers to the presence of small out-pouches (called diverticula) or sacs that can develop in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract. While diverticula can be present anywhere in the intestines, they are most common on the left side of the large intestine, the area known as the descending and sigmoid colon.
Diverticulosis is a common disorder, especially in older people. The condition is uncommon in people under the age of 30 years of age and is most common in those over 60 years old. Diverticulosis may be somewhat more common in men than in women.
No one knows for certain why Diverticulosis develops; however, a few theories have been suggested. Some experts believe that abnormal intermittent high pressure in the colon due to muscle spasm or straining with stool may cause diverticula to form at weak spots in the colon wall. Historically, low-fiber diets were felt to play a role in the development of Diverticulosis. However, recent studies suggest that this is not the case.
There also appears to be a genetic predisposition to Diverticulosis; that is, if your parent or sibling has Diverticulosis, you may be more likely to develop it than someone who does not have a family member with this disorder.
Most patients with Diverticulosis have no symptoms or complications and will never know they have the condition unless it is discovered during an endoscopic or radiographic (X-ray) examination. Some individuals may experience chronic pain or discomfort in the left lower abdomen, bloating, and/or a change in bowel habits that may be related to having Diverticulosis or a history of diverticulitis.
It is not known whether Diverticulosis can be prevented. As noted above, the amount of fiber that one eats does not appear to be related to the development of Diverticulosis, so eating a high-fiber diet may not prevent Diverticulosis.
Individuals who are overweight or obese are more likely to have Diverticulosis. Smoking may also increase the possibility of developing Diverticulosis.
Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight and abstaining from smoking may decrease the possibility of developing Diverticulosis. Once diverticula have formed, they do not go away.
People with Diverticulosis are sometimes instructed to avoid foods that contain indigestible particles such as popcorn, nuts, and fruits with small seeds. However, recent studies with detailed information on diet found that people who frequently ate nuts or popcorn were NOT more likely to experience diverticulitis than those who did not eat these foods. Therefore, it is no longer recommended that people with Diverticulosis or diverticulitis avoid these foods.
People who eat a diet high in fiber are less likely to develop diverticulitis than those who eat little fiber (although, as noted above, a high-fiber diet does not appear to decrease the chances of developing Diverticulosis). Reducing the amount of red meat in the diet may also decrease the possibility of diverticulitis.
Studies show that people who maintain a healthy weight and/or exercise regularly are less likely to develop diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding than those who are overweight or who do not exercise. Avoiding smoking is also likely to help prevent diverticulitis, especially perforated diverticulitis.
Minimizing the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, may decrease the chances of developing diverticulitis. However, if you take aspirin for your heart or blood vessels, you should NOT stop taking aspirin without talking to your doctor. Opiate narcotics and corticosteroids also appear to predispose to diverticulitis.