What is diverticulosis?

Diverticulosis is a term that refers to having pockets in the colon, and it is a common condition in North America.

These pockets form in the colon as patients get older and occur in more than 50 percent of Americans by age 65, and almost all Americans by age 80. These pockets, or diverticula, cannot turn into cancer and do not cause problems in the majority of people who have them.

Diverticula (pockets) can form throughout the colon but most typically occur in the descending or sigmoid colon, usually on the left side of the body.

Diverticulosis is a condition in which there are small pouches or pockets in the wall or lining of any portion of the digestive tract. These pockets occur when the inner layer of the digestive tract pushes through weak spots in the outer layer. A single pouch is called a diverticulum.

The pouches associated with diverticulosis are most often located in the lower part of the large intestine (the colon). Some people may have only several small pouches on the left side of the colon, while others may have involvement in most of the colon.

Dr. Patricia L. Raymond, MD

Diverticulosis (sometimes called tics) is simply potholes in your colon. And these divots have no symptoms unless they become plugged with poo. As stool has bacteria in it, the plugged diverticulosis becomes an abscess. We call this condition diverticulitis.

Diverticulosis is the presence of small pockets, or tics, in the wall of the colon, primarily of the sigmoid colon just above the rectum. The condition is uncommon in cultures and countries where diets feature lots of high fiber foods like grains, fruits and vegetables. In industrialized countries, like the United States and Great Britain, our low fiber diet leads to poor bowel habits. This leads to an increase in pressure in the colonic wall as it works to remove the stool, and thus “tics” form along the colon lining.

By the age of 80, 2/3rds of Americans will have some degree of diverticulosis. However, many won’t even know it unless they have a colonoscopy. For those unlucky 10 to 20 percent of patients who have an “attack” of diverticulitis, the symptoms are easy to recognize: left lower quadrant abdominal pain and tenderness, fever and an elevated white blood cell count on blood testing. A CT scan (specific x-ray of the intra-abdominal organs) may show inflammation around the colon.

Are there some foods like popcorn that lead to a diverticular attack? There is no convincing scientific evidence that foods like popcorn, seeds or nuts become entrapped in the tics and lead to diverticulitis. Most dietitians and gastroenterologists agree though that a lack of fiber combined with increased fat can contribute to an overactive (spasmodic) colon. This increase in activity can lead to pressure build up within the colon, and subsequently results in pressure in any diverticuli.

Drink plenty of water, get a proper amount of fiber in your snacks and diet, and keep processed foods and alcohol in moderation. 

Dr. Robynne K. Chutkan, MD

Diverticulosis is a condition where the colon develops little pockets (potholes) as a result of a diet that's relatively low in fiber and high in animal products. The colon, particularly the lower part called the sigmoid, has to work much harder to expel the small, hard stool that is characteristic of a low-fiber diet, and over time, it develops these scooped out pockets in the wall from all the strenuous activity. Once the diverticular pockets form, stool can get stuck inside them causing an annoying sensation of incomplete emptying. Additional bacterial fermentation of the stool within the pockets results in frequent bloating. Diverticulosis refers to the presence of the pockets.

Diverticulosis is the out-pouching of the colon wall. Diverticulosis is quite common with approximately 60 percent of all Americans having diverticulosis by the age of 60. Though not proven, many theorize the western diet low in fiber has contributed to the increasing frequency of diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is diagnosed either during the time of a colonoscopy or by a radiological study (barium enema, CT scan). Of all patients with diverticulosis, 70 percent will remain asymptomatic.

The two most common complications of diverticulosis include bleeding or infection (diverticulitis). Diverticulitis is when the out-pouches of the colon become infected causing acute onset of abdominal pain, fever, nausea and vomiting. Diverticular bleeding is the abrupt onset of painless, large volume rectal bleeding. Both complications often require hospitalization for treatment.

Dr. William B. Salt, MD

Diverticulosis is a condition of the colon in which small pouches develop.

About one of every three Americans will develop small pouches (diverticula) of the colon (diverticulosis) by age 60, and two of every three will have diverticulosis by age 85. Most people with diverticulosis don't have any symptoms from the condition unless they develop one of two complications: either rectal bleeding or inflammation, called diverticulitis.

Continue Learning about Diverticulitis

How common is diverticulosis?
American Society for Gastrointestinal EndoscopyAmerican Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy
Diverticulosis is a common condition in the United States that affects half of all people over 60 ye...
More Answers
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Dr. Michael Roizen, MDDr. Michael Roizen, MD
Diverticula are small outpouchings (pockets) in the intestine that are filled with waste. Two hundre...
More Answers
What Is Diverticulosis?
What Is Diverticulosis?
What Is the Diet for Someone with Diverticulitis?
What Is the Diet for Someone with Diverticulitis?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.