Diverticular disease

Diverticular Disease (DD) is the name given to small pouches (sacs) known as diverticula, that protrude outwards from the wall of the large intestine. Each diverticulum consists of a small part of the inner lining of the intestine that has been forced through the muscular layer of the intestine forming a small hernia. The number of protrusions will differ from person to person. The protrusions are generally the size of small grapes.

Diverticula can appear in any part of the colon. Among people in Westernised countries, diverticula are most commonly found in the sigmoid part of the colon. Diverticular Disease is common predominately among middle-aged to older people.

There are some other terms that are used to refer to this condition:

  • Diverticulosis – the condition in which small sacs appear but cause no symptoms
  • Diverticular Disease – used to describe all forms of the presence of diverticula
  • Symptomatic diverticulosis – the condition in which some symptoms are present but there is no infection in the sacs
  • Diverticulitis – the inflammation of the sacs usually caused by an infection (complication)

What Are The Symptoms?

Many people with diverticula will not suffer from any symptoms and may have diverticula discovered during a routine medical examination. Some patient’s experience;

  • A change in bowel habit (either more constipated or more loose than usual)
  • Discomfort, especially on the left side of the abdomen
  • Pain, which arises because the diverticula become inflamed (diverticulitis)
  • Blood in the motions. If this occurs for the first time it is important to tell your doctor

What Can Cause Diverticular Disease?

It has not yet been confirmed what exactly causes diverticular disease but researchers and scientists do have a number of theories.

  1. Low fibre intake
  2. Race / Genetics
  3. Dietary factors other than fibre
  4. Leading an inactive lifestyle
  5. Associated with ageing

Of the various possible explanations for the cause of diverticula, the evidence is strongest for a low fibre diet. However, the jury is still out on whether bran and fibre can be effective in treatment for uncomplicated DD or even prevent complications.

Further Information

For more information on diverticular disease such as diagnosis, tests and how it is treated, please open our Diverticular Advice Sheet.