The word 'diverticulum' means a 'pouch' in Latin and Diverticular Disease is where a number of these small 'pouches' or 'pockets' develop in the lining of the bowel, protruding out through the muscle layer. It is very commonly encountered in the sigmoid section of the bowel, but it can appear anywhere in the bowel.
Diverticular Disease is very common and rarely causes any symptoms at all, nor in most cases does it need to be treated.
The causes of Diverticular Disease are not clearly understood, but it may be associated with a low fibre diet and is more common in older patients and more prevalent in developed countries than in developing parts of the world. It was believed that the condition was brought on or made worse by the consumption of nuts and seeds but this has been shown to be incorrect.
Most of the time Diverticular Disease causes no symptoms and does not need treatment. However, the pouches can become infected and become inflamed - this is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis can be painful and may also be associated with rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habit, which is caused by a narrowing of the affected section of bowel.
There are no specific tests for diverticular disease, in fact its presence is often only noted when tests for other conditions (such as a colonoscopy) show that it is present.
Diagnosis / Treatment
A diet high in fibre is the best treatment for diverticular disease / diverticulitis. There is no specific medication for the condition.
Only in more severe cases - where for example diverticulitis leads to recurrent infections in the bowel, or a perforation in the bowel wall or blockage of the bowel - is surgical intervention required.