Diverticulosis is when pockets called diverticula form in the walls of your digestive tract.
The inner layer of your intestine pushes through weak spots in the outer lining. This pressure makes them bulge out, making little pouches. Most often it happens in your colon, the lower part of your large intestine.
Is It the Same As Diverticulitis?
No. Diverticulitis happens if one or more of the pockets gets inflamed or infected. This can cause severe pain in your belly. Diverticulosis often brings no symptoms at all.
Who’s at Risk?
Diverticulosis is common in people over age 60. It doesn’t happen often to those younger than 30. Experts think the pouches show more with age. Men might get it more than women.
Research shows the condition might be genetic. That means you’re more likely to get it if your parents or any of your brothers or sisters have it.
What Causes It?
In the past, most experts thought not eating enough fiber -- which is found in many fruits and vegetables, grains, and beans -- led to diverticulosis. But recent studies haven’t shown a clear link between the condition and eating fiber.
Your doctor will ask about your eating habits and health history before suggesting you tweak your diet.
What Are the Symptoms?
Most people who have diverticulosis don’t show any signs. Those who do might have:
A doctor likely will suggest some ways to relieve your symptoms, like taking a mild pain reliever, while he pinpoints the cause. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcers can cause similar symptoms, so he’ll want to rule them out.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Most doctors don’t notice cases of diverticulosis until they screen for other conditions. For instance, the pouches might show up in a colonoscopy, or an X-ray.
Your doctor might take these steps to know for sure:
Gather your medical history. He’ll ask you about your diet, general health, meds you take, and how often you have bowel movements.
Perform tests. These might include:
What’s the Treatment?
The main goal is keep the pockets from causing problems. Your doctor might prescribe treatments that include:
Meds that help ease symptoms. These might include mesalazine.
Probiotics . Research is still being done on how probiotics -- live bacteria that live in your stomach and intestines -- can help fight diverticulosis symptoms. Yogurt and supplements are good sources.
It’s important to check with your doctor before taking supplements of any kind.
What About Nuts and Seeds?
In the past, doctors thought you had to avoid certain foods if you had diverticulosis. These included nuts, seeds like sunflower and sesame, and even little seeds in fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers and strawberries. But recent research shows these foods don’t harm people with diverticulosis.
Can I Prevent Diverticulosis?
This condition is much more common now than it was 100 years ago. Many doctors believe our modern diet – which features lots of refined carbs and keeps you from getting enough fiber – plays the biggest role in whether you get it.
Other possible risk factors include:
Having diverticulosis doesn’t mean you’ll have more problems, but they can happen. For example:
The infection can spread and an abscess can form. A specialist will need to drain the pus.
A perforation (a hole along the stomach wall) can occur. It’s rare, but life-threatening and requires immediate surgery.