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Digestion Discussion: Diverticulitis

Since the late 1990s, there has been an increasing prevalence of patients being admitted to hospitals for the treatment of diverticulitis. But what exactly is diverticulitis, and who does it affect? Recently, we spoke with our own Dr. Adeyemi Lawal, a board certified Gastroenterologist at WakeMed, who helped set the record straight.

diverticulitis explained

What is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is an inflammation or infection of one or more small pouches inside of your large intestine.

How does diverticulitis occur?

As you age, it is common to develop small pouches or sacs (called diverticula) along the inside of your large intestine. The presence of these sacs or diverticula is called diverticulosis. When these sacs become inflamed and/or develop small tears, it is referred to as diverticulitis.

Common Symptoms of Diverticulitis

The symptoms associated with diverticulitis can vary from mild to severe. The location of the pain varies depending on the site of the inflammation in the colon. Some of the most common symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Abdominal Pain
  • Changes in Bowel Habits
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Painful Urination

Is there a specific age or demographic that is more prone to diverticulitis?


Diverticulitis is more common in the elderly than in younger patients. The average age for people who have diverticulitis is 63 years-old. Less than 20 percent of acute diverticulitis occurs in patients younger than 45 years-old.

Are there risk factors for developing diverticulitis?

YES.  Risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity/Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Use of NSAIDs & Opioids (ex: Ibuprofen, Aspirin, Naproxen, etc.)
  • Low Fiber Diet

Is it true that you can’t eat nuts if you have diverticulitis?

NO. Previously, patients were told to avoid eating food that contained nuts, corn or seeds due to the idea that it could cause further inflammation or complications with their diverticulitis. However, current research shows no association between the risk of diverticulitis and the consumption of these foods.

Can diverticulitis be prevented?

NO. However, dietary fiber, vigorous physical activity, and the use of statins have been reported to decrease the risk of diverticulitis and associated complications.

Are there treatment options available for diverticulitis?

YES. Treatment depends on the severity of the illness. For example, for milder cases of diverticulitis, a broad spectrum oral antibiotic coupled with close follow-up is reasonable.

happy older woman eating lunch

For severe cases that involve: the elderly, uncontrollable vomiting, and patients with other diseases/medical issues – hospital admission and IV antibiotics is preferred. Usually, patients are treated with a 10 to 14-day course of antibiotics.

For complicated cases of diverticulitis, such as obstruction, abscess or perforation (large hole in the colon), surgery may be required.

When should you call a doctor?

If you’ve been diagnosed with diverticulitis and you do not see improvement within 72 hours of taking oral antibiotics, you should contact your doctor for further instructions.

About Adeyemi A. Lawal, MD

Dr. Adeyemi Lawal is board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology with WakeMed Physician Practices. Dr. Lawal’s interests include: gastrointestinal motility disorders, GERD, inflammatory bowel disease, endoscopy, colonoscopy, and capsule endoscopy.