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What are Diverticula?

By M. DePietro
Updated May 17, 2024
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Diverticula are bulging pouches that are usually found in the larger intestine. They can also be found in others areas of the digestive system, such as the stomach and small intestine. It is not completely understood why some people develop this condition. It is believed segments of the colon may be weak. Pressure can develop in the colon, which may cause it to bulge.

Not all people will have symptoms if they have diverticula. However, the diverticula can become inflamed and infected. When this occurs the condition is known as diverticulitis. If inflammation develops, symptoms can include fever, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. Some people may also have bleeding from their rectum.

There are a few theories about why diverticulitis develops in some people with this condition. An inflammation may be caused by an obstruction in the diverticulum. Physicians believe another possible cause may be fecal material, which becomes trapped in the opening of the diverticula and can cause an infection.

Although the exact cause of diverticulitis is not known, there are known risk factors for developing the condition. People who are obese or don’t eat enough fiber are at risk of developing diverticulitis. Being over the age of 40 is also a risk factor. Other risk factors include being overweight and not getting enough exercise.

When diverticulitis develops, treatment is usually needed and may vary depending on how severe the symptoms are. Many cases can be treated at home. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat the infection. A doctor will often recommend a liquid diet while a patient is experiencing symptoms.

If symptoms occur often or are severe, additional treatment may be needed. In some cases hospitalization may be needed to give antibiotics intravenously. In patients who get repeated infections, surgery to remove part of the colon where the diverticula are may be recommended.

Complications can occur from diverticulitis and include a bowel obstruction, abscess, and fistulas. Certain complications, such as peritonitis, can be life- threatening if not treated. Peritonitis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach cavity.

There are a few things people with this condition can do to prevent an inflammation and infection from developing. Getting exercise and maintaining a healthy weight reduce the chances of developing diverticulitis. Eating foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits and whole grains, helps waste pass through the colon faster. This reduces pressure in the colon and may prevent diverticulitis from developing.

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Discussion Comments
By StarJo — On Jan 11, 2012

My mother had intestinal diverticula that caused her intense pain. She frequently had to take antibiotics for infections in that area, and she also needed pain pills to deal with the agony as the infection healed.

She would be doing fine one day, and then, she would suddenly have severe pain in her left side, low down on her abdomen. Once she got this pain, she knew she would be bedridden for awhile.

The pain was so intense at times that she could not stand up straight. She had to get to bed so that she could safely take a pain pill and pass out. If the pain returned when she woke up, she would go to her doctor to get antibiotics to make the source of the pain go away.

By kylee07drg — On Jan 10, 2012

@Oceana – I also have been on the diverticula diet for nearly seven years, and I have never felt better. After suffering from frequent bouts with diverticulitis, I knew I needed to make a change.

I have found that apples and strawberries make excellent snacks, desserts, and breakfasts. There are not too many foods that are this versatile.

I also eat whole grain bread and English muffins instead of white bread. On this diet, I almost never have any intestinal pain, and I stay regular.

I can't imagine ever going back to eating greasy, fatty food. I feel like I have cleansed out my entire system by improving my diet, and I seem to be healed of my diverticulitis flareups for good.

By Oceana — On Jan 10, 2012

@lighth0se33 – My doctor told me that there isn't enough known about the causes of diverticulitis to determine whether or not it is hereditary at this point. So, there is a chance that it could be.

However, I would think you could avoid getting it by making some lifestyle improvements. You might be at an increased risk for it because of your genetics, but you could surely overcome that with a healthy diet and activity.

I had painful diverticulitis about ten years ago, and it scared me straight. Ever since my last painful flareup, I have learned to love fruits, veggies, and whole grains like I used to love potato chips and cookies! Plus, I take a brisk twenty minute walk every day to stay in shape.

By lighth0se33 — On Jan 09, 2012

Does anyone know if diverticulitis could be hereditary? My dad has suffered from it for years, and sometimes, I have pains that resemble the ones he experiences with a flareup of diverticulitis.

When I am hurting in my abdomen, I get a sore spot that is very concentrated. It feels as though someone is stabbing me with a knife, and it lasts for hours. My dad says that his pains are similar to this.

However, I have never had fever or an infection along with the pain. I feel it may be a warning sign of things to come when I'm older, though. Our shared diverticula symptoms scare me.

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