The outer layer of the wall of the large intestine (colon) is weaker in some areas than in others. This allows small ‘pouches’ of the inner layers to be forced outwards through the outer layer.


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The pouches are called diverticula (a single pouch is called a diverticulum). They vary in diameter from 3mm to 3cm. Diverticula form because of pressure on the colon over time (particularly from constipation caused by not having enough fibre in your diet) and as we get older.

About half of all people over 50 and most people over 90 have diverticula in their colons and in most cases they do not cause problems or symptoms. Some people have fairly mild symptoms that come and go. These people are said to have diverticulosis or uncomplicated diverticular disease.

If faeces gets trapped in a diverticulum, bacteria can grow around the blockage and cause infection and inflammation. This is called diverticulitis and can be very serious. One in 10 people with diverticula in their colon get diverticulitis at some point in their life. Treatment for diverticulitis is usually with antibiotics and often in hospital.

A common complication of diverticulitis is peritonitis. This is caused by infected and inflamed diverticula perforating or rupturing.

This is usually caused by faeces getting trapped behind one of the pouches (diverticulum) and causing a build up or blockage in the colon. Bacteria start to grow and multiply around the blockage causing infection and inflammation.

Other sources of information for these topics.

Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Provides clear definitions of diverticulosis and diverticulitis, along with information on symptoms, causes, complications, and treatments.

Discusses high fiber and herbal diets for the treatment and prevention of this digestive disorder. Includes a list of dietary guidelines.

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