What You Need to Know about Diverticular Disease

book with diverticular disease written on it

Diverticular disease is a digestive condition that may cause pain and discomfort in the abdomen, diarrhea or constipation, fever, chills and cramping.  Read on to learn more about what causes diverticular disease and how to manage your symptoms.

What is diverticular disease?

Diverticular disease is the common name for having diverticulosis and diverticulitis:

  • Diverticulosis means that you have small pouches (diverticula) in your colon (large intestine). These pouches form when there is a weak spot in the wall of your colon.
  • Diverticulitis means the small pouches are inflamed or infected by bacteria. 

What causes diverticular disease? 

Diverticular disease may be related to eating a low fibre diet. A low fibre diet can cause constipation, which makes stool hard and difficult to pass. Pushing hard while having a bowel movement may also cause pressure in the colon. This may create pouches in the colon (diverticulosis), which may become inflamed (diverticulitis).

What are the symptoms of diverticular disease?

If you have diverticulosis, you likely will not have symptoms. Sometimes cramping, bloating or bleeding can occur. However, if you have diverticulitis, symptoms can include pain, tenderness or cramping in the abdomen, diarrhea or constipation, nausea and sometimes vomiting, fever and chills.

How can I prevent or manage symptoms of diverticular disease?

Get enough fibre

Choose whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts, seeds and especially vegetables and fruit. The fibre in vegetables and fruit can help prevent diverticulosis and make the symptoms of diverticulitis less severe. Use the chart below to find out how much fibre you need per day. Remember to slowly increase how much fibre you eat to avoid gas and bloating.

Age Recommended amount of fibre per day (grams)
Males 19-50 38
Males 50 and over 30
Females 19-50 25
Females 50 and over 21

Bonus! Find out how much fibre is in various vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds here! A sample menu is also provided. 

Drink enough water

Drink 1.5-2 L (6-8 cups) of water per day especially when you are increasing your fibre intake. Water helps fibre do its job. It also helps keep your stool soft.

Stay active

Being more physically active can help lower your risk of diverticular disease in combination with a high fibre diet.  

What foods should I avoid if I have diverticular disease?

You do not need to avoid any foods such as nuts, seeds, corn, popcorn or tomatoes if you have diverticular disease. These foods do not make diverticular disease worse. These foods may even help prevent it because they are high fibre choices.

How is diverticular disease treated?

If you have diverticulitis and your pouches become infected, you may need to stay in the hospital for a while and take antibiotics and/or pain medication.  You may also need a liquid diet while your infection is being treated.

Should I take a fibre supplement for diverticular disease?

If you are not able to get enough fibre or continue to have symptoms even after eating a high fibre diet, consider adding a fibre supplement. Check with your health care provider before you start taking supplements.

When should I see my health care provider?

If you have diverticular disease, speak with your health care provider if you are having pain, fever, diarrhea or vomiting. Speak to your health care provider if you think you may have diverticular disease.

Bottom line

Getting enough fibre, staying hydrated and being active are ways you can help manage or prevent diverticular disease. If you have pain or other symptoms that concern you, speak with your health care provider.

You may also be interested in

What You Need to Know about Ulcers
Constipation in Adults

Last Update – January 3, 2019

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