Although it was rare before the 20th century, diverticular disease is a very common health problem in the Western world. It’s a group of conditions that can affect your digestive tract.

The most serious type of diverticular disease is diverticulitis. It can cause uncomfortable symptoms and, in some cases, serious complications. If left untreated, these complications can cause long-term health problems.

Read on to learn more about diverticulitis, including its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and how your diet might affect your risk of developing it.

Diverticulitis can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms can appear suddenly, or they can develop gradually over several days.

Potential symptoms of diverticular disease include:

If you develop diverticulitis, you might experience:

Abdominal pain is the most common symptom of diverticulitis. It will most likely occur in the lower left side of your abdomen. It can also develop in the right side of your abdomen.

If you develop any of the above symptoms, it may be a sign of a serious complication from diverticulitis or another condition. Call your doctor right away.

Diverticular disease develops when pouches form along your digestive tract, typically in your colon (large intestine). These pouches (diverticula) can become inflamed and infected, which may occur when feces or partially digested food blocks the opening of the diverticula.

Although there’s no single known cause of diverticular disease, several factors can increase the risk of developing diverticulitis, including:

More than 75 percent of diverticulitis cases are uncomplicated, leaving about 25 percent to develop complications.

These complications can include:

  • abscess, an infected pocket that’s filled with pus
  • phlegmon, an infected area that’s less well-confined than an abscess
  • fistula, an abnormal connection that can develop between two organs or between an organ and the skin
  • intestinal perforation, a tear or hole in the intestinal wall that can allow the contents of your colon to leak into your abdominal cavity, causing inflammation and infection
  • intestinal obstruction, a blockage in your intestine that can stop stool from passing

To diagnose diverticulitis, your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms, health history, and any medications you take. They’ll likely perform a physical exam to check your abdomen for tenderness.

If they need more information, they may perform a digital rectal exam to check for:

  • rectal bleeding
  • pain
  • masses
  • other problems

Several other conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to diverticulitis. To rule out other conditions and check for signs of diverticulitis, your doctor might order one or more tests.

Tests can include:

If you have diverticulitis, these exams and tests can help your doctor learn if it’s uncomplicated or complicated.

Using a colonoscopy to diagnose diverticulitis

If you have symptoms of diverticulitis, your doctor might encourage you to have a colonoscopy once the acute episode resolves. This procedure can help confirm a diagnosis of diverticulitis or another condition that causes similar symptoms, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

During a colonoscopy, your doctor will thread a flexible scope into your rectum and colon. They can use this scope to examine the inside of your colon. They can also use it to collect tissue samples for testing.

To help you feel more comfortable during this procedure, you will be sedated beforehand.

In some cases, your doctor might learn that you have diverticula during a routine colonoscopy. If the diverticula aren’t inflamed, infected, or causing symptoms, you probably won’t need treatment.

The treatment that your doctor prescribes for diverticulitis will depend on how severe your condition is.

Uncomplicated diverticulitis can typically be treated at home. Your doctor might encourage you to make changes to your diet. In some cases, they might prescribe medications, including antibiotics.

If you develop complications from diverticulitis, you may need to visit a hospital for treatment. You may be given fluids and antibiotics through an intravenous (IV) line. Depending on the type of complication, you might need to undergo surgery or another procedure.

There are no particular foods that everyone with diverticulitis has to avoid. However, you might find that certain foods make your condition better or worse.

As your symptoms improve, your doctor might encourage you to eat more high fiber foods. Some studies have linked high fiber diets to reduced risk of diverticulitis. Other studies have examined possible benefits of dietary or supplemental fiber for diverticular disease but are still unsure of the role fiber should play.

Your doctor might also encourage you to limit your consumption of red meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grain products. A large cohort study found that people who follow a diet that’s rich in these foods are more likely to develop diverticulitis than people who eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Diet can play a role in managing diverticulitis and your overall digestive health. Take a moment to learn about some of the foods that might affect your symptoms.

Dietary changes

To give your digestive system a chance to rest and recover, your doctor might suggest avoiding solid foods and following a clear-liquid diet for a few days.

If your symptoms are mild or have started to improve, you may be able to try eating low-fiber foods until your condition gets better. As your condition improves, your doctor will likely encourage you to add more high-fiber foods to your snacks and meals.

Medication

To reduce pain or discomfort from diverticulitis, your doctor might recommend over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).

If they suspect you have an infection, they’ll likely prescribe antibiotics to treat it. These can include:

It’s important to take your full course of prescribed antibiotics, even if your symptoms improve after the first few doses.

Other procedures

If you develop a complicated case of diverticulitis that can’t be treated through diet and medication alone, your doctor might recommend one of the following procedures:

  • Needle drainage. In this procedure, a needle is inserted into your abdomen to drain an abscess of pus.
  • Surgery. Surgeries may involve draining an abscess of pus, repairing a fistula, or removing infected segments of the colon.

If you experience multiple episodes of diverticulitis that can’t be effectively managed with dietary changes and medications, your doctor might recommend surgery. Surgery may also be used to treat complications from diverticulitis.

There are two main types of surgery used to treat diverticulitis.

Bowel resection with anastomosis

During a bowel resection with anastomosis, a surgeon removes infected segments of your colon and reattaches the healthy segments to each other.

Bowel resection with colostomy

In a bowel resection with colostomy, the surgeon removes infected sections of your colon and attaches the end of the healthy section to an opening in your abdomen, known as a stoma.

Both procedures can be performed as open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Learn more about the types of surgery that can be used to treat diverticulitis.

Home remedies for diverticulitis mostly consist of making dietary changes, but there are a few other options that may be helpful for symptoms and digestive health.

Some home remedies for diverticulitis include:

  • Probiotics. Although more research is needed, some studies have found that certain strains of probiotics might help relieve or prevent symptoms of diverticulitis.
  • Aromatherapy. Certain essential oils have been shown to reduce pain, which could be beneficial for managing your symptoms.
  • Acupuncture. Not only can acupuncture improve digestive issues like constipation, but some research also suggests that it could help treat chronic pain.
  • Herbs. Several herbs possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties, including ginger, turmeric, and rosemary. However, more research is needed to evaluate the effects of these herbs on diverticulitis specifically.

Read more about the home remedies that might help you manage this condition.

Diverticular disease usually affects adults. In rare cases, babies are born with diverticula. When this happens, it’s known as Meckel’s diverticulum. If the diverticula become inflamed, it’s called Meckel’s diverticulitis.

In some cases, Meckel’s diverticulum doesn’t cause noticeable effects. In other cases, it can cause symptoms such as:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • bloody stool
  • bleeding from the rectum

If you suspect your child might have diverticulitis, make an appointment with their doctor. Learn about some of the strategies pediatricians can use to diagnose and manage Meckel’s diverticulum.

More research is needed to learn what causes diverticular disease, including diverticulitis. Currently, experts believe multiple factors play a part. Some potential risk factors may be modified through lifestyle changes.

For example, it might help to:

  • try to maintain a moderate body weight
  • eat a diet that’s high in fiber to help bulk up stools (however, in acute diverticulitis, you may want to avoid fiber)
  • limit your consumption of saturated fat
  • get enough vitamin D
  • get regular exercise if possible
  • try to avoid cigarette smoke

These prevention strategies can also help promote good overall health.

One of the main risk factors for diverticulitis is age. Older people are more likely than younger people to develop diverticulitis. It commonly occurs in men under 50 and women ages 50 to 70.

People who develop diverticula at a younger age may be more likely to experience diverticulitis. Younger people are also more likely to be admitted to a hospital if they have diverticulitis than older people.

According to a review of research published in 2018, other potential risk factors for diverticulitis include:

Family history

Studies have found that genetics play a role in diverticular disease, with some reports estimating that roughly 40 to 50 percent of the potential risk of diverticular disease is hereditary.

Low levels of vitamin D

Some studies suggest that people with higher levels of vitamin D might have a lower risk of getting diverticulitis. More research is needed to understand the potential link between vitamin D and diverticula.

Obesity

Several studies have found that people with higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waists are at increased risk of diverticulitis.

It’s possible that obesity raises the risk of diverticulitis by changing the balance of bacteria in your gut, but more research is needed to understand the role this plays.

Physical inactivity

Some studies have found that physically active people are less likely than inactive people to develop diverticulitis. However, this link still needs more research.

Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or smoking

Regular use of aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs may raise your risk of diverticulitis.

People who smoke are also more likely than nonsmokers to develop diverticular disease, including diverticulitis.

According to a 2017 review of research, there’s no strong evidence that drinking alcohol raises your risk of this disease.

If you drink alcohol, your doctor will likely encourage you to drink in moderation only. Although alcohol consumption might not cause diverticulitis, drinking too much can raise your risk of many other health problems.

If you have diverticula that aren’t infected or inflamed, it’s known as diverticulosis.

In some cases, diverticulosis can cause symptoms such as pain in the abdomen and bloating. When that happens, it’s known as symptomatic uncomplicated diverticular disease (SUDD).

Diverticula can also develop in your bladder. This happens when the lining of your bladder forms pouches, poking through weak spots in your bladder’s wall.

Sometimes bladder diverticula are present at birth. In other cases, they develop later in life. They can form when your bladder outlet is blocked, or your bladder isn’t working properly due to illness or injury.

If you have bladder diverticula that becomes inflamed, it’s known as bladder diverticulitis. To treat bladder diverticulitis, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. They might also recommend surgery to repair the diverticula.

It’s also possible for diverticulitis in your colon to affect your bladder. In severe cases, you might develop a fistula between your colon and bladder. This is known as a colovesical fistula. Find out what this condition involves.

Diverticula can potentially form in your esophagus, too. This occurs when pouches develop in your esophageal lining.

Esophageal diverticula are rare. When they do develop, it’s usually slowly and over many years. As they grow, they can cause symptoms or complications such as:

  • trouble swallowing
  • pain when swallowing
  • halitosis, or bad breath
  • regurgitation of food and saliva
  • pulmonary aspiration: breathing regurgitated food or saliva into your lungs
  • aspiration pneumonia: developing a lung infection after breathing in food or saliva

If the diverticula become inflamed, it’s known as esophageal diverticulitis.

To treat esophageal diverticulitis, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. To repair the diverticula, they might recommend surgery. Get more information about your treatment options.

Diverticulitis is relatively common in the Western world. In most cases, it can be treated through short-term dietary changes and medication.

If complications develop, they can be serious. If you have complicated diverticulitis, your doctor will likely advise you to get treatment in a hospital. You might need to undergo surgery to repair damage to your colon.

If you have diverticulitis or questions about your risk of developing it, speak with your doctor. They can help you learn how to treat this disease and support your digestive health.