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Health & Wellness

Diverticulosis: You can have it for years and never know — if you take care of yourself

An Asian woman standing with one hand across her midsection and the other on her hip.
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About one or two percent of patients under 30 experience diverticulosis while people age 60 and older have some degree of the condition.

Diverticulosis refers to small outpouching in the colon called diverticula or little sacs.

Diagnosis of it is not a major cause for concern, but poor lifestyle choices can produce a different outcome.

KERA's Sam Baker talked about diverticulosis with Dr. Ariel Aday, an assistant professor of gastroenterology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and associate program director for its digestive and liver disease fellowship.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis refers to the presence of small outpouching in the colon called diverticula or little sacs. Little sacs develop in the wall of the GI tract. And most commonly in the large intestine.

Colon,With,Diverticula
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Colon with diverticula.

A first step toward diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis refers to a complication of diverticulosis. One of these little outpouching things or sacks becoming inflamed and infected, and can have a number of complications after that.

The vast majority of patients with diverticulosis will not develop diverticulitis. Diverticulitis develops in less than 5% of patients with diverticulosis.

How can people have diverticulosis and not know it?

This is just a structural finding. It could be seen on a routine screening colonoscopy, or even a CT scan that they could have performed for something else is a condition that increases as we age.

More than 50% of patients greater than age 60 in the U.S. will have diverticulosis. And then more than 70% of patients greater than age 80 will have some degree of diverticulosis. It's much less common — 1 or 2% — in patients less than age 30.

How long could a person live with diverticulosis before it’s detected?

The vast majority of patients would live their whole lives without having any sort of complication.

The reason to be concerned is that there is a risk for complications, and there are ways that we reduce those complications:

  • Increase your dietary fiber
  • Reducing obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding.
  • Also, smoking
  • Chronic NSAID use (Ibuprofen, Aleve, Neproxin, etc.)
  • And chronic opioid use

Treatment for diverticulosis

Most of the time we treat it with antibiotics, but more serious presentations usually require hospitalization, antibiotics and imaging to make sure there's no perforation or abscess (an infected fluid collection outside the wall of the colon) that might require drainage. A perforation might require a surgical intervention.

RESOURCES:

Understanding Diverticulosis

Diverticular Disease

Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at sbaker@kera.org. You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

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