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What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is a condition that causes small pockets called diverticula to form in your intestine. These pockets make it difficult for bowel movements to pass through your digestive system.

What causes diverticulosis?

Diverticula form when muscles have to work hard to move bowel movements through the intestine. The force causes bulges to form at weak areas in the intestine. This can happen if you eat foods that are low in fiber. Fiber helps give your bowel movements more bulk so they are larger and easier to move through your colon. The following may also increase your risk of diverticulosis:

  • A history of constipation
  • Age 40 or older
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise

What are the signs and symptoms of diverticulosis?

  • A bloated abdomen
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps

How is diverticulosis diagnosed?

  • Blood and bowel movement tests: Your healthcare provider may ask for blood and bowel movement samples to find out how well your digestive system works.
  • Colonoscopy: This test is done to look for changes in your intestines. It may show the cause of your bleeding and pain. A tube with a light on the end will be put into your anus, and then moved forward into your intestine.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: This test is done to look for changes in your lower intestines. It may also show the cause of bleeding or pain. A tube with a light on the end will be put into your anus, and then moved forward into your intestine. A small amount of tissue may be taken from the intestine wall and sent for tests.
  • Barium enema: This is an x-ray of the colon to look for diverticula, tumors, or polyps. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Barium is used so that caregivers can see your colon better on the x-ray film.

How is diverticulosis treated?

  • Eat a variety of high-fiber foods: This is usually the only treatment needed. High-fiber foods help you have regular bowel movements. High-fiber foods include cooked beans, fruits, vegetables, and some cereals. Most adults need 20 to 30 grams of fiber every day. You may need 26 to 40 grams each day to control your diverticulosis. Ask your caregiver how much fiber you should have. Increase your intake of fiber slowly. You may need to take a fiber supplement if you are not getting enough fiber from food.

  • Medicines: Your healthcare provider may tell you to take medicine to soften your bowel movements. You may also be given medicines to stop abdominal cramps or to treat the pain caused by the cramps.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink plenty of liquids each day as you eat more fiber: You may need to drink 2 to 3 liters (8 to 12 cups) of liquids every day. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Apply heat: Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Exercise: Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can help you have regular bowel movements. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.

What are the risks of diverticulosis?

You may have bloating and gas if you increase your intake of fiber too quickly. Without treatment, the blood vessels in the diverticula may bleed or burst. This may cause blood in your bowel movements. Bowel movement may block your intestines. You may develop a condition called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is when your diverticula become swollen or infected. An infection can cause bleeding and severe abdominal pain. If infected diverticula burst, bowel contents could leak into your abdomen. This can cause a life-threatening inflammation of the abdomen lining called peritonitis.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a change in your bowel movements.
  • You have questions about the foods you should eat.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have new or worse pain in your left lower abdomen.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have black or bright red bowel movements.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.