Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis | Digestive Health | Loyola Medicine

Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Overview and Facts about Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Although diverticulosis and diverticulitis may sound similar, these two digestive health issues have several key differences between them.

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula, or small, bulging pouches that have developed in the digestive tract, become infected or rupture.

Diverticulosis, on the other hand, occurs when there are multiple diverticula in the colon, resulting from long-time consumption of a low-fiber diet.

About two million people in the U.S. suffer from diverticular diseases. Each year, about 300,000 new cases of diverticulitis are diagnosed.

Symptoms and Signs of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

The majority of people with this digestive health condition do not experience any symptoms.

If diverticulosis does cause symptoms, the condition is called symptomatic uncomplicated diverticular disease (SUDD). This condition causes symptoms similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome, such as:

Just 10–20 percent of people with diverticulosis progress to SUDD.

Causes and Risk Factors of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

The major risk factor for diverticulitis and diverticulosis is age. The conditions conducive to diverticula development are common in older adults, especially those 60 and older. Among people older than 70, 60 percent have diverticulosis, while in people older than 80 that number jumps to 75 percent.

Beyond age, risk factors linked to diverticulosis and diverticulitis include:

  • A low-fiber diet
  • Genetics and family history
  • Low levels of exercise
  • Lack of vitamin D
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Tests and Diagnosis of Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Several other digestive health issues have the same signs and symptoms of diverticulosis, so your doctor will likely need to perform a variety of tests to rule out any other illness. These tests may include:

  • A pelvic exam in women to rule out gynecologic problems
  • A pregnancy test in women to rule out pregnancy
  • A stool test to check for a gastrointestinal infection
  • A urine test to check for different types of infections
  • Blood tests to check for inflammation, anemia, or problems with the kidney or liver
  • Imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a CT scan, to get pictures of the gastrointestinal tract for further analysis

Treatment and Care for Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Most cases of diverticulosis are uncomplicated and require only dietary adjustments and certain medications for treatment.

If you have complicated diverticulitis, you will likely have to go to the hospital for treatment. You will likely be given fluids and antibiotics through an IV. In the most severe cases, emergency surgery may be recommended to remove the damaged piece of intestine or to remove any abscesses that do not respond to medications.