Health Feature Articles
Diverticular Disease is Common in People over Age 60
Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist in Barton County, University of Missouri Extension
Diverticular disease is a term used for persons who have diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulosis is a condition in which small pouches bulge out in the colon. About 10 percent of people over the age of 40 and half of people over age 60 have diverticulosis. A person could have diverticulosis and never know it because it rarely causes any discomfort or symptoms. The symptoms appear when diverticulitis develops.
Diverticulitis is diagnosed when the small pouches become inflamed or infected. The most common symptom is pain in the abdomen. According to the National Institutes of Health National Digestive Diseases Clearinghouse, the most common sign of diverticulitis is tenderness around the left side of the lower abdomen. This could be accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, and cramping if infection is the cause. Physicians are not sure what causes the infection but it is thought that it is caused by stool or bacteria that get caught in the diverticula.
No one is sure what causes diverticulosis but it is thought that a low fiber diet is the main cause. Diverticular disease is more common in countries where a lot of low fiber refined foods are consumed and rare in countries where people consume high fiber diets. Fiber makes stools soft and easy to pass and prevents constipation. Constipation makes muscles strain to move a stool that is too hard and puts increased pressure on the colon. It is this excess pressure that is thought to be the cause of the weak spots in the colon that bulge and become diverticula.
The goal when diverticulitis is diagnosed is to clear up the infection or inflammation. During this time a liquid diet may be prescribed along with antibiotics and pain relievers.
The main treatment for diverticulosis is a high fiber diet. Most people should get 20 to 35 grams of fiber every day. This means adding fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and beans to the diet. One medium apple has 3.3 grams of fiber, one pear has 5.1 grams of fiber, one-half cup of cooked broccoli has 2.6 grams of fiber, and one-half cup of cooked kidney beans has 5.7 grams of fiber. An important thing to remember is that fiber soaks up fluid in your intestinal tract so be sure to increase your fluid intake as you increase fiber intake.
For more information on diverticular disease, visit the National Institutes of Health web site at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/diverticulosis
Last Updated 05/05/2009