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DIVERTICULAR DISEASE

Diverticular Disease 

Diverticular disease includes diverticulosis and the more severe diverticulitis, two conditions affecting the colon’s inner lining.  
Diverticular disease is an umbrella term that refers to both diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulosis occurs when excess pressure within the colon (large intestine) causes small bulges (diverticula) to form in the colon’s inner lining. The bulges typically form where the lining has been weakened and are most common in the S-shaped section on the lower left side (sigmoid colon). When at least one of the bulges becomes inflamed and infected, it’s known as diverticulitis.  

Causes of Diverticular Disease 

Researchers are still working to determine exactly what causes diverticulosis. However, studies suggest that it may be a result of failing to eat enough fiber, since doing so can lead to constipation, which can in turn place pressure on the colon’s walls.  

The following risk factors can also make someone more likely to develop diverticulosis: 

  • Being over age 40 (the risk continues to increase with age) 
  • Being a man 
  • Being overweight 
  • Eating too much fat or red meat 
  • Failing to exercise 
  • Smoking 
  • Taking certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids and steroids 

The scientific community is also still working to determine what causes diverticulosis to progress into diverticulitis, although it appears that it may be a result of either the bulges eroding or bacteria from stool being pushed into the bulges. 

Symptoms of Diverticular Disease 

Diverticulosis generally doesn’t cause any symptoms, although some individuals experience tenderness, mild cramping, bloating, swelling and constipation. Once the condition progresses to diverticulitis, though, it can lead to: 

  • Pain 
  • Tenderness 
  • Cramping 
  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Constipation or diarrhea 
  • Rectal bleeding 

Diagnosing Diverticular Disease 

Because diverticulosis typically doesn’t cause any noticeable symptoms, cases are usually diagnosed based on the results of tests performed for an unrelated reason. However, if a physician suspects diverticulitis, he or she will likely conduct a physical examination and order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis: 

  • Angiography 
  • Blood test 
  • Colonoscopy 
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan 
  • Digital rectal exam 
  • Lower gastrointestinal tract radiography (also known as a barium enema) 
  • Sigmoidoscopy 
  • Stool test 

Treatment for Diverticular Disease

Diverticulosis generally doesn’t require treatment, although it’s important to increase fiber intake to prevent the condition from developing into diverticulitis. If it does progress to diverticulitis, it can likely be treated with medication and lifestyle changes. However, the gastroenterology specialists at Tampa General Hospital may recommend surgery for more severe cases.