7 Things to Know About Diverticulosis

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Hanes, RN on November 3, 2020
  • Young male patient on exam table with female doctor examining abdomen
    Diverticulosis Facts to Help Prevent Complications
    Most people older than 50 will develop small pouches (diverticula) within the wall of the large intestine. Diverticulosis is quite common and almost never produces symptoms. Nonetheless, it’s best to manage the condition to prevent complications, including diverticulitis (inflammation of a diverticulum). But does managing the condition mean you should adopt a diverticulosis diet, take probiotics, or use laxatives? Get the facts about diverticulosis to find out what you really need to know to manage the condition.
  • Cropped photo of young female Caucasian woman holding stomach in pain
    1. Diverticulosis is not the same thing as diverticulitis.
    Because the two conditions share very similar names, many people confuse diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulosis is a condition in which abnormal pouches (diverticula) develop within the wall of the large intestine (colon). If the diverticula subsequently become inflamed or infected, the condition is diverticulitis. It’s sort of like the difference between appendix and appendicitis. You may have an appendix, but you don’t have appendicitis unless the appendix becomes inflamed. So, if you have been diagnosed with intestinal pouches, you have diverticulosis. And then if the pouches become inflamed, you have diverticulitis.
  • Young female Caucasian patient on exam table with female Caucasian doctor feeling abdomen
    2. Diverticulosis doesn’t always lead to diverticulitis.
    Many people diagnosed with diverticulosis believe it’s inevitable they will experience one or more bouts of painful, possibly infectious diverticulitis. In fact, doctors used to estimate between 10% and 25% of people with diverticulosis would develop diverticulitis eventually. However, recent research shows only about 4% of people with diverticulosis will experience an episode of diverticulitis. The older you are when diagnosed, the less likely your condition will progress.
  • Close-up of middle age Caucasian woman tossing salad with spinach and vegetables
    3. You can’t prevent diverticulosis.
    Doctors don’t know the exact cause of diverticulosis, which makes it difficult to prevent. As many as half of adults older than 50 will be diagnosed with the condition, regardless of how well they take care of their colon. That said, if you do develop diverticulosis, you can make certain lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of potential complications, including diverticulitis, fistulas and abscesses. Eat a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly to keep your colon healthy.
  • Smiling mixed race family enjoying healthy dinner together at home
    4. Diverticulosis treatment isn’t always necessary.
    Many people find out they have diverticulosis after a gastroenterologist spots diverticula (or a single diverticulum) during a routine screening colonoscopy. If your diverticulosis isn’t producing symptoms like pain or fever, then it probably doesn’t require much treatment. However, if you’ve experienced an episode of diverticulitis—when a diverticulum becomes inflamed or infected—then your doctor might suggest medications or lifestyle changes to prevent future attacks. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or medications used to treat Crohn’s disease to help manage your symptoms, along with recommending a high-fiber diet.
  • Colorful assortment of fruits, greens, vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds
    5. You don’t have to adopt a restrictive diet to treat diverticulosis.
    In years past, some doctors recommended people with diverticulosis avoid eating seeds (including sunflower kernels and the seeds in fresh produce like strawberries and tomatoes), nuts, corn and popcorn. They theorized these items could become lodged in a diverticulum and trigger an episode of diverticulitis. However, research no longer supports that theory. Today, people with diverticulosis are encouraged to eat a well-balanced diet that’s high in fiber, so you can eat healthful portions of your favorite nuts and seeds—even the ones contained in fruits and vegetables—as part of your regular diet.
  • Close-up of Caucasian woman's hands with vitamin D supplement and glass of water
    6. Certain supplements might help manage diverticulosis.
    Talk with your gastroenterologist about the latest research into vitamins and supplements that might help you manage diverticulosis and stop it from progressing to diverticulitis. Recent studies indicate that, for select individuals, vitamin D supplementation and taking a probiotic might reduce your risk of experiencing an episode of diverticulitis. Some people may benefit from taking a fiber supplement, such as methylcellulose or psyllium. Your doctor can provide you with the best guidance on how to introduce a fiber supplement to your diet.
  • Middle age Caucasian woman holding stomach in pain while standing next to kitchen counter
    7. Diverticulosis can lead to serious bleeding.
    Diverticula most commonly develop in the lower portion of the colon. This is sigmoid diverticulosis. If a diverticulum in this area stretches or bursts, it can rupture an adjacent blood vessel that subsequently bleeds into the colon. More than 70,000 people each year are hospitalized for diverticular bleeding, which requires prompt treatment. If you notice bright red blood in your stool or in the water of the toilet, you should not assume the bleeding is caused by a hemorrhoid or something else. Call your doctor for or go to the emergency room.
Diverticulosis Facts | 7 Things to Know About Diverticulosis

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 3
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.