DIVERTICULAR disease and diverticulitis are related digestive conditions that affect the large intestine (colon).
In diverticular disease, small bulges or pockets (diverticula) develop in the lining of the intestine, and diverticulitis is when these pockets become inflamed or infected.
The main symptoms of the disease include lower abdominal pain and feeling bloated although the majority of people with diverticula will not have any symptoms.
The more serious symptoms include severe abdominal pain – especially on the left side – high temperature of 38ºC or above, diarrhoea or more frequent bowel movements.
The large intestine becomes weaker with age, and the pressure of hard stools passing through the large intestine is believed to cause the bulges to form. It is an age-related disease and it’s estimated that 5 per cent of people have diverticula by the time they are 40 years old, and at least 50% of people have them by the time they are 80 years old.
Both sexes are equally affected by diverticular disease and diverticulitis, although the condition is more likely to appear at a younger age (under 50) in men than in women. Overall, symptoms of diverticulitis are most likely to occur in people over 70 years old.
A high-fibre diet can often ease symptoms of diverticular disease, and paracetamol can be used to relieve pain – other painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen are not recommended for regular use, as they can cause stomach upsets. Speak to your GP if paracetamol alone is not working.
Mild diverticulitis can usually be treated at home with antibiotics prescribed by your GP, although more serious cases may need hospital treatment to prevent and treat complications.
People aged 50-70 who eat a high-fibre diet (25g a day) have a 40% lower chance of admission to hospital with complications of diverticular disease – compared to others in their age range with the lowest amount of dietary fibre.