St. Mark's Hospital - March 06, 2019

Diverticular disease is a common bowel condition that affects more than half of people older than age 60. Despite its prevalence, there’s a lot of misinformation about what causes the disease and how it’s treated. Let’s bust some common myths.

Myth 1: Diverticulitis is the same thing as diverticulosis

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually different types of diverticular disease. When small pockets (diverticula) develop in the intestine it is called diverticulosis. Most people who have diverticulosis have few, if any, symptoms. However, if these pockets become blocked by waste, inflammation and infection can occur. This is called diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis strikes only about 5 percent of those with diverticulosis, according to research in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. When it does strike, though, it can cause severe abdominal pain, cramping and bloating, bloody bowel movements, and fever and chills. If you experience these symptoms, make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.

Myth 2: Diverticulitis is caused by constipation

Doctors used to think constipation triggered most cases of diverticulitis. Today, they understand that several factors play a role, including age, obesity, genetics and gender. Tobacco use and lack of physical activity are also linked to diverticulitis risk.

Myth 3: Diverticulitis requires aggressive treatment

Most cases of diverticulitis can be treated with dietary changes and possibly a course of antibiotics. A low-fiber liquid diet can help the digestive system heal, then the patient can slowly increase fiber intake. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary, as complications can be life-threatening.

Myth 4: People with diverticular disease should avoid certain foods

Prevailing wisdom used to say that eating seeds, nuts or popcorn can trigger diverticulitis, but there is no proof that is true. No foods are off limits, but doctors do advise eating plenty of high-fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains.