Understanding Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

The colon (large intestine) is the last part of the digestive tract. It absorbs water from stool and changes it from a liquid to a solid. In certain cases, small pouches called diverticula can form in the colon wall. This condition is called diverticulosis. It's very common as people get older. The pouches can become inflamed and infected. If this happens, it becomes a more serious problem called diverticulitis . These problems can be painful. But they may be managed medically or surgically.

Front view of colon with diverticula pouches in lower part.
Pouches or diverticula usually occur in the lower part of the colon called the sigmoid.
Cross section of sigmoid colon showing diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis occurs when the pouches become infected or inflamed.

Managing your condition

Your provider may prescribe diet changes or medicines. You might need surgery in more serious cases.

If you have diverticulosis

Follow this treatment advice:

  • Diet changes are often all that's needed to control symptoms. The main changes are adding fiber and drinking more water. Fiber absorbs water as it travels through your colon. This helps your stool stay soft and move smoothly. Water helps this process.

  • If needed, you may be told to take over-the-counter stool softeners.

  • To help ease pain, antispasmodic medicines may be prescribed.

  • Watch for changes in your bowel movements. Tell your healthcare provider if you notice any changes.

  • Begin an exercise program. Ask your provider how to get started.

  • Get plenty of rest and sleep. 

If you have diverticulitis

Treatment depends on how bad your symptoms are.

  • For mild symptoms. You may be put on a liquid diet for a short time. Antibiotics are usually prescribed. If these 2 steps ease your symptoms, you may then be prescribed a high-fiber diet. If you still have symptoms, your healthcare provider will discuss more treatment choices with you.

  • For severe symptoms. You may need to be admitted to the hospital. There, you can be given IV (intravenous ) antibiotics and fluids. You'll also be put on a low-fiber or liquid diet. Surgery may be needed if severe symptoms aren't eased by medical treatment, or if the diverticula has burst (ruptured).

Keys to colon health

Help keep your colon healthy with these lifestyle tips:

  • Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of high-fiber fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Drink plenty of liquids such as water and juice.

  • Keep a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise, stress management, and enough rest and sleep. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2021
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