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Learning About Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis

Pouches called diverticula in the large intestine

What are diverticulosis and diverticulitis?

In diverticulosis and diverticulitis, pouches called diverticula form in the wall of the large intestine, or colon.

  • In diverticulosis, the pouches do not cause any pain or other symptoms.
  • In diverticulitis, the pouches get inflamed or infected and cause symptoms.

Doctors aren't sure what causes these pouches in the colon. But they think that a low-fibre diet may play a role. Without fibre to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon.

Some people with diverticulosis get diverticulitis. But experts don't know why this happens.

What are the symptoms?

  • In diverticulosis, most people don't have symptoms. But pouches sometimes bleed.
  • In diverticulitis, symptoms may last from a few hours to a week or more. They include:
    • Belly pain. This is usually in the lower left side. It is sometimes worse when you move. This is the most common symptom.
    • Fever and chills.
    • Bloating and gas.
    • Diarrhea or constipation.
    • Nausea and sometimes vomiting.
    • Not feeling like eating.

How can you prevent diverticulitis?

You may be able to lower your chance of getting diverticulitis. You can do this by taking steps to prevent constipation.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains every day. These foods are high in fibre.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Get at least 2½ hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week. Walking is a good choice. You also may want to do other activities, such as running, swimming, cycling, or playing tennis or team sports.
  • Take a fibre supplement, such as Benefibre or Metamucil, every day if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when having a bowel movement.

Some people avoid nuts, seeds, berries, and popcorn. They believe that these foods might get trapped in the diverticula and cause pain. But there is no proof that these foods cause diverticulitis or make it worse.

How are these problems treated?

  • The best way to treat diverticulosis is to avoid constipation.
  • Treatment for diverticulitis includes antibiotics. It often includes a change in your diet. You may need only liquids at first. Your doctor may suggest pain medicines for pain or belly cramps. In some cases, surgery may be needed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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