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Diverticular Disease

What is diverticular disease?

'Diverticular disease' describes a condition that is in fact quite common, but that in many cases causes no ill effects. It describes the development of indentations, sometimes referred to as 'pouches' in the bowel lining, which 'stick out' into the outer muscle wall of the bowel. The word 'diverticulum' literally means 'pouch' in Latin.

Although diverticular disease can affect any section of the colon, it is particularly common in the sigmoid colon. It is also more common in older people than younger people.

Where it is not causing any symptoms, treatment is unnecessary - it is only where it is causing symptoms that treatment is needed.

What are the symptoms of diverticular disease?

As described above, diverticular disease is in most cases asymptomatic, that is there are no symptoms. However, in some cases, a condition known as 'diverticulitis' can develop, which is where an infection can develop in the small indentations themselves and cause inflammation of the bowel wall. This in turn may cause the affected section of the bowel to constrict and result in either a change in bowel habits and/or bleeding from the rectum or anus.

What causes diverticular disease?

Medical science is not entirely sure what causes diverticular disease. As it is more common in developed countries than elsewhere, it is believed to be associated with diet, especially a diet low in fibre (i.e. fruit/vegetables) and high in refined foods. A previous theory that it was connected with eating seeds and nuts is now considered unfounded.

How is diverticular disease diagnosed and treated?

Since it often has no symptoms, diagnosis of diverticular disease is often made during medical tests and examinations for other conditions. Where it is causing symptoms, a change in diet to include more fibre can often have beneficial results. There is no medication that treats the condition.

In severe cases of diverticulitis or where there are repeated occurrences, a blockage to the bowel or a perforation in the lining of the bowel may occur, in which case surgery will be needed.