When Those Little Diverticula Become Infected

As people age, it’s common to develop small pouches in the colon wall, called diverticula. Many people spend their lives without ever noticing a problem, but when the diverticula become infected problems result. Diverticulitis is when those little diverticula become infected.

What are the symptoms of diverticular disease?

Symptoms of diverticular disease depend on whether diverticula—pouches in the wall of the colon—lead to chronic symptoms of diverticula, diverticular bleeding, or diverticulitis. Most people first notice symptoms when they develop complications, such as diverticular bleeding or diverticulitis.

Chronic symptoms of diverticula

Some people have chronic symptoms related to diverticula, even when diverticulitis is not present. Chronic symptoms may include:

  • bloating
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • cramping or pain in the lower abdomen

Other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, cause similar symptoms, so having these symptoms may not mean you have diverticular disease.

Diverticulitis may cause acute symptoms such as:

  • abdominal pain, most often in the lower left side of your abdomen
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • fevers and chills
  • nausea or vomiting

The pain caused by diverticulitis is typically severe and comes on suddenly, although the pain may also be mild and worsen over several days. The intensity of the pain may change over time.

What causes diverticular disease?

Doctors aren’t sure what causes diverticular disease. Experts think the following factors may play a role in causing or increasing the risk for this disease.

Genes – research suggests that certain genes may make some people more likely to develop diverticular disease.

Lifestyle factors – certain lifestyle factors may increase the risk of diverticulitis or complications of diverticular disease, including diets low in fiber and high in red meat, lack of physical activity,
medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and steroids, obesity, and smoking.

Other factors – scientists are studying other factors that may play a role in diverticular disease. These factors include bacteria or stool getting caught in a pouch in your colon, changes in the microbiome of the intestines, problems with connective tissue, muscles, or nerves in your colon, and problems with the immune system.

Be sure to see your doctor if you have symptoms such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea, or pain in your lower abdomen.