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What Are Diverticulitis and Diverticulosis? A Doctor Explains


I had a colonoscopy a year ago. The gastroenterologist removed two polyps, which were 100-percent cancer free. Praise the Lord! Anyway, he said I had diverticulosis. What is it? And what can be done for it?

— Sheryl, West Virginia

In Gastroland, we commonly abbreviate the mouthful word diverticulosis to “tics.” But don't be scared; your gastroenterologist was not implying you have blood-sucking arthropods. He was saying you have outpouchings of the large intestine.

Diverticula are simply potholes in your colon. These divots have no symptoms unless they become plugged with poo. Since stool has bacteria in it, the plugged tic can become inflamed or infected. When someone with diverticulosis has this problem, we call that diverticulitis. (Hint: The suffix “itis” implies inflammation, as in arthritis or bronchitis).


We really don’t know what causes colon potholes, but societies deficient in whole-grain foods have a higher rate of them. In fact, around half of Americans over 60 have diverticulosis, so you are far from alone.


The suggestion to avoid the diverticulitis part (the inflammation) is to eat a diet high in fiber, and that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Some gastroenterologists say to avoid certain seeds and nuts because the little granules left after chewing may block up your diverticula. I subscribe to the other school of thought: Nuts and seeds are part of a high-fiber diet, so just exclude the ones that cause you problems. (My personal diverticula don’t favor sunflower seeds, so I avoid them.)

Common symptoms include left lower abdominal discomfort, a low-grade fever and stools that become slender due to swelling of the colon’s interior. Should you develop these symptoms, prompt antibiotic therapy can shorten your illness and prevent development of a serious colon-wall abscess (a collection of puss that causes swelling and potentially a tiny hole in the colon).

Board-certified gastroenterologist
PATRICIA L. RAYMOND, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.G., practices at Simply Screening in Chesapeake, Va., is assistant professor of clinical internal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical school and wrote Colonoscopy: It’ll Crack U Up!.

Last updated and/or approved: April 2010.
Original article appeared in September/October 2007 former print magazine. Bio current as of October 2007. This article is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.


Comments (2)add comment
Sweet potatoes
written by Cass , February 23, 2012

Dan, eat Sweet potatoes.
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written by Daniel E. Bravin , September 13, 2009

I am a 66 year old male. I have diverticulosis. I am very tired of the pain it gives me at periodic times. I try to stay on a fiber diet. Sometimes it helps and then sometimes I think it is not enough. Could you please tell me what is the one vegetable that has the most fiber in it and what is the one fruit that has the most fiber in it? Are the fiber products in the drug stores really good for you? I would love to get my bowel movements back to normal on a consistent basis.

Thank You, Dan Bravin

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