Diverticulitis is an acute and painful condition caused by infection of pockets or splits in the muscle wall of the large intestine or bowel.

Damage to the wall of the large intestine is commonly seen in older Australians. More than 50% of people over the age of 70 have ‘pocketing’  (diverticula). This ‘pocketing’ of the bowel wall (diverticular disease), is often observed incidentally during diagnostic or screening procedures such as colonoscopy or barium x-rays.

Mostly, people have no symptoms or problems with diverticular disease. However some people with diverticular disease have reported:

  • irregular suffering with pain
  • bloating
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • or blood in their stools.

If you have these symptoms they should be investigated to rule out other, more serious problems.

If the diverticular pockets get infected it is called diverticulitis and can result in:

  • severe pain
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • bleeding and changes in bowel habits.

Diverticulitis is usually treated very successfully with antibiotics and some people never experience another attack. If you have more than one attack of diverticulitis the risk of complications such as narrowing of the intestine, bleeding or fistula is increased.

Complications of diverticular disease may require bowel surgery.

Research has shown that diverticular disease occurs more frequently among people whose diet is lower in fibre. Eating a high fibre diet, as recommended by the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, may reduce your chances of developing diverticular disease.

A high fibre diet is also recommended to reduce the chance of the acute condition of diverticulitis occurring in people who already have diverticular damage to their bowel wall.

A high fibre diet contains:

  • plenty of fruit including skins and seeds
  • vegetables
  • and wholegrain breads and cereals.

Fibre increases the size of stools making them easier to pass. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids, at least two litres per day, to ensure the stools are moist and soft. Some people with diverticular disease use a fibre supplement such as psyllium to ensure their stools are easy to pass.

For personal assistance with modifying your diet because of diverticular disease contact an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD).