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Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis Overview

Diverticula are small pouches in the wall of the digestive tract. They occur when the inner layer of the digestive tract bulges through weak spots in the outer layer. (This is similar to what happens when an inner tube bulges through a tire.)

  • Although these pouches can occur any place from the mouth to the anus, most occur in the large intestine (colon), especially the left (lower) portion of the colon just before the rectum.
  • These marble-sized pouches usually occur where the blood vessels run through the intestinal wall.
  • Individuals who have these pouches are said to have diverticulosis.
  • Because this condition typically does not cause symptoms, most people are unaware that they have diverticulosis.
Picture of Diverticular Disease
Picture of Diverticular Disease

Diverticulitis vs diverticulosis

Diverticulitis is inflammation of diverticula. Diverticulitis occurs when one or more of these pouches becomes inflamed or infected. Some people with diverticulosis become aware of the condition only when acute diverticulitis occurs.

Diverticulosis is a very common condition in the United States.

  • Diverticulosis is mainly a condition of older people.
  • A smal percentage of Americans over the age of 40 have diverticulosis. As we age, the condition becomes more prevalent. Over half of people older than 60 years of age develop the condition, and about two-thirds of individuals older than 80 years of age are believed to have diverticulosis.
  • Only a few people with diverticulosis will develop diverticulitis.

Diverticulosis is more common in developed or industrialized countries.

  • In places such as the United States, England, and Australia, where the typical diet is low in fiber and high in highly processed carbohydrates, diverticulosis is common. The current theory is that a low-fiber diet may cause increased incidence of diverticular disease.
  • Diverticulosis first appeared in the United States in the early 1900s. This was about the same time when processed foods were first introduced into the U.S. diet.
  • Diverticulosis is much less common in countries of Asia and Africa, where the typical diet is high in fiber.

Most people recover from diverticulitis without complications if they receive appropriate treatment. Diverticulitis can lead to some very serious conditions if it is not detected and treated promptly. To a great extent, diverticulosis and diverticulitis can be prevented by changes in lifestyle and habits.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/29/2014
Medical Editor:

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Diverticulitis (Diverticulosis) - Symptoms

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Diverticulitis »

Diverticula are small mucosal herniations protruding through the intestinal layers and the smooth muscle along the natural openings created by the vasa recta or nutrient vessels in the wall of the colon.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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