Key Points about Colonic Diverticulosis

  • Small sacs (diverticular) that develop in the colon and disrupt the digestive process are the cause of colonic diverticulosis.
  • Many people with this condition don’t experience any symptoms, but it can cause bloody stool, abdominal pain, cramping and bloating.
  • Some people with this condition require surgery to remove the affected part of the colon, or to stop internal bleeding.
  • Colonic diverticulosis is very common in older adults in the United States.
Common related conditions
Anal Fissure Anal Fistula Bloody Stool Colorectal Polyps Hemorrhoids

Overview

Colonic diverticulosis occurs when there are one or more sacs called diverticula in the colon (large intestine). Diverticula are usually 3 to 100 mm in size, though giant diverticula can be up to 25 mm.

Colonic diverticulosis causes 

Experts believe that spasms of the muscles of the intestine cause diverticula. Eating a low-fiber diet may also contribute to developing the condition.

Colonic diverticulosis risk factors

Advanced age puts you at an increased risk for developing colonic diverticulosis. In fact, 75% of people over age 80 have the condition.

Colonic diverticulosis symptoms

In most cases, people with colonic diverticulosis don’t experience symptoms. However, the diverticula can become inflamed (swollen) and bleed. Symptoms include: 

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Bloating
  • Bloody stool
  • Constipation
  • Pain in the abdomen

Colonic diverticulosis diagnosis

Your gastroenterologist may use one or more of the following to diagnose your colonic diverticulosis:

  • Colonoscopy. Your doctor uses this procedure to closely analyze your entire colon.
  • Imaging tests. A computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan can check for irregularities.
  • Capsule endoscopy. In this procedure, you’ll swallow a capsule that has a camera in it. While in the digestive tract, the camera takes detailed images. The camera automatically transmits these images to a special monitor, where your doctor can analyze them for signs of colonic diverticulosis or other conditions.
  • Barium enema. Your specialist can use this X-ray test to assess for changes or irregularities in your colon.

Colonic diverticulosis treatment

In most cases, you will only need to undergo treatment if you experience symptoms. If so, your gastroenterologist may use one or more of the following treatments: 

High-fiber diet. Adding more fiber to your diet can help your body pass stool more easily and, therefore, reduce strain on your digestive tract. High-fiber foods include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Your specialist may also recommend a fiber supplement.

Medications. If diet alone is not enough, your specialist may prescribe medications that can add bulk to your stool – making it easier to pass – or relax the spasms in the colon that lead to abdominal cramping and pain.

Surgery. If your symptoms are ongoing, your specialist may recommend surgery to remove the affected part of the colon. Surgery is also needed to stop internal bleeding that does not go away on its own.

When should I seek care?

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing a gastroenterologist for more specialized treatment.