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Diverticular Disease

Diverticular Disease is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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Diverticulum (single) or diverticula (multiple) are outpouchings in the colonic wall. Diverticular disease is a spectrum of diseases:

  • Asymptomatic diverticulosis: common incidental finding on routine colonoscopy
  • Symptomatic diverticulosis: also known as symptomatic uncomplicated diverticular disease (SUDD); recurrent abdominal pain attributed to diverticulosis without colitis or diverticulitis (1)
  • Acute diverticulitis: inflammation and/or infection
    • Uncomplicated diverticulitis: left lower quadrant (LLQ) pain, tenderness, leukocytosis, but no peritoneal signs or systemic toxicity
    • Complicated diverticulitis: secondary abscess formation, bowel obstruction or perforation, peritonitis, fistula, or stricture
  • Diverticular bleeding
    • Accounts for >40% of lower GI bleeds and 30% of cases of hematochezia in general
    • Bleeding more common with right-sided diverticula
  • System affected: entire GI tract except the rectum


  • Diverticular disease accounts for ~300,000 hospitalizations per year in the United States.
  • Diverticulitis occurs in 1–2% of the general population and in 4% of patients with diverticulosis over the course of their lifetime (1).
  • Diverticular bleeding occurs in 3–5% of patients with diverticulosis.

  • Prevalence of diverticulosis and the number of diverticula increase with age
    • Diverticulosis occurs in 60% of the population >age 60 years and 70% by the age of 80 years.
    • Increased from 62 to 75/100,000 persons from 1998 to 2005; large increase in incidence for patients <45 years of age, due to changes in diet
  • Male = female overall; more common in men <65 years of age and more common in women >65 years

Etiology and Pathophysiology

A diverticulum forms where intestinal blood flow (vasa recta) penetrates the colonic mucosa. This results in decreased resistance to intraluminal pressure.

  • Age-related degeneration of mucosal wall, increased intraluminal pressure from dense, fiber-depleted stools, and abnormal colonic motility contribute to diverticulosis.
  • Most right-sided diverticula are true diverticula (all layers of the colonic wall).
  • Most left-sided diverticula are pseudodiverticula (outpouchings of the mucosa and submucosa only).
  • Diverticulitis occurs when local inflammation and infection contribute to tissue necrosis with risk for mucosal micro- or macroperforation.
  • Diverticulitis: Microscopy reveals inflammation with lymphocytic infiltrate, ulceration, mucin depletion, necrosis, Paneth cell metaplasia, and cryptitis.
  • Alterations in intestinal microbiota contribute to chronic inflammation (1,2).
  • Thinning of the vasa recta over the neck of the diverticula increases susceptibility to bleeding.
  • Diverticular disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may represent the same disease continuum.
  • No known genetic pattern
  • Asian and African populations have lower overall prevalence but develop diverticular disease with adoption of a Western lifestyle.

Risk Factors

  • Age >40 years
  • Low-fiber diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle, obesity
  • Previous diverticulitis. Risk rises with the number of diverticula.
  • Smoking increases the risk of perforation (1).
  • Diverticular bleeding: increased risk with NSAIDs, steroids, and opiate analgesics. Calcium channel blockers and statins appear to be protective against diverticular bleeding.

General Prevention

  • High-fiber diet or nonabsorbable fiber (psyllium)
  • Vigorous physical activity

Commonly Associated Conditions

Colon cancer, connective tissue diseases, and inflammatory bowel disease

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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Diverticular Disease." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116190/all/Diverticular_Disease.
Diverticular Disease. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116190/all/Diverticular_Disease. Accessed April 24, 2019.
Diverticular Disease. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116190/all/Diverticular_Disease
Diverticular Disease [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 24]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116190/all/Diverticular_Disease.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Diverticular Disease ID - 116190 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116190/all/Diverticular_Disease PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -