Diverticula are small pouches that bulge outward through the colon or large intestine. Diverticulosis becomes more common as people age. About half of all people over age 60 have it. Doctors believe the main cause is a low-fiber diet.
Most people with diverticulosis don't have symptoms. Sometimes it causes mild cramps, bloating or constipation. If the pouches become inflamed or infected, it is called diverticulitis. The most common symptom is abdominal pain, usually on the left side. You may also have fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping and constipation. In serious cases, diverticulitis can lead to bleeding, tears or blockages. Although diverticular bleeding is relatively rare, it will not stop by itself and requires immediate treatment.
Diverticulosis is often found through tests ordered for something else. For example, it is often found during a colonoscopy to screen for cancer. Your doctor will do a physical exam and imaging tests to diagnose it.
Based on symptoms and severity of illness, your doctor will ask about your health, other symptoms, bowel habits, diet and medications and will perform a physical exam, which may include a rectal exam.
The rectal exam is used to check for pain, bleeding or a blockage in the intestine. Your doctor may also schedule a blood test, CT scan, a colonoscopy or a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series of X-rays to confirm a diagnosis.
Diverticular bleeding is diagnosed by colonoscopy, CT scan or angiogram.
Treatment varies, depending on whether a person has diverticulitis or diverticular bleeding.
Diverticulitis with mild symptoms and no complications usually requires rest, oral antibiotics and a liquid diet. A few days after symptoms have eased, solid foods may be slowly added back into your diet. Severe cases of diverticulitis with acute pain and complications will likely require a hospital stay and treatment with intravenous antibiotics coupled with few days without food or drink to help the colon rest. For longer periods, you may be given parenteral nutrition, an IV liquid food mixture through a chest tube.
In the case of diverticular bleeding, your doctor may treat the bleeding during a colonscopy. If bleeding continues, abdominal surgery with a colon resection in which the doctor removes the affected part of the colon and reattaches the healthy ends, may be necessary.