Surgical Associates
of Ithaca, P.C.

Cayuga Professional Center
1301 Trumansburg Rd
Ithaca, New York 14850
(607) 273-3161


Diverticular Disease of the Colon

DIVERTICULOSIS: An abnormal sac or pouch opening off the side of the colon (large intestine).

DIVERTICULITIS: An infection or inflammation of one of these pockets. This usually involves the sigmoid or left colon.

INCIDENCE OF DIVERTICULOSIS: Incidence is rare before age 40, and then it increases dramatically with age. At age 60, incidence is 30-40% of population, at age 80, 60-70% of population.

CAUSES OF DIVERTICULOSIS: Diverticulosis was virtually unheard of before the 20th century; this is probably related to major dietary changes this century. Other causes include decreased consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as increased consumption of meat and animal fats, and refined sugar.

SYMPTOMS OF DIVERTICULOSIS: The majority of patients with this condition are asymptomatic. Mild, recurrent crampy abdominal pain is common. Symptoms sometimes include chronic intermittent diarrhea or constipation. Many people with “spastic colon” or “irritable bowel” may actually have diverticulosis with spasm. Diagnosis is often made using a barium enema, sigmoidoscopy, or CT scan.

COMPLICATIONS: Fifteen percent of patients will hemorrhage and one-third of them will require surgery. Fifteen to twenty-five percent will have acute diverticulitis with severe pain, fever, chills and peritonitis. The majority will respond to antibiotics, but some may need elective surgery to prevent recurrences. Those that do not respond to antibiotics will need emergency surgery. A smaller percentage will have fistulas or obstructions which would also require surgery.

PREVENTION: Dietary measures are most important. High fiber, including whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are most important. Some people are also sensitive to nuts and seeds (which cant get caught in the pouches). Decreasing animal fats and processed foods may also prove helpful.

David A. Schwed, M.D.