Although named a “disease” it is probably better regarded as part of the normal ageing process of the bowel. Small pouches form in the side wall of the
bowel over time, most frequently on the left side of the colon, and this is an irreversible change in the appearance of the bowel. Approximately half
of people at the age of 50 in the UK will have evidence of these pouches if investigated, and the overwhelming majority of people will never have any
problems. In a few people, the pouches can become inflamed (diverticulitis), bleed or, rarely, cause more serious problems such as narrowing of the
bowel or even a hole in the bowel. Diverticular disease is not related to bowel cancer, nor does it increase the risk of cancer.
What symptoms can I expect?
Most people have no symptoms. Acute symptoms can be pain, often in the left side of the abdomen, or bleeding from the back passage. Most of the
time acute symptoms will settle without any significant intervention, but if symptoms are bad enough people may need a short admission to hospital.
A very small proportion of patients with diverticular disease will go on to develop chronic problems. These can include more chronic abdominal pains
or a change in the bowels related to stiffness or narrowing of the affected section of bowel.
What treatments is available?
Once investigations have confirmed the presence of diverticular disease and people have been reassured that there is nothing more sinister causing their
abdominal or bowel symptoms, often they do not need any specific treatment. Sometimes changes in the diet can help, or occasionally medications to
manage the bowels or to treat the specific symptoms such as flares of pain. Surgery is the only way to get rid of the affected section of colon, although
this is a significant undertaking and is fortunately rarely needed. In some people, however, it can be a very good solution, and I will discuss this with
you in detail if I feel you might be a candidate for surgery.