Are You Sure its Indigestion? It Could be Diverticulosis

By Steven C. Immerman, MD, FACS, Published in Healthy Viewpoints, Fall 2003.

Diverticulosis is a very common condition involving the large intestine. The large intestine is also called the colon. We say someone has diverticulosis when they have many small outpouchings on the internal surface of the large intestine called diverticuli. If they become inflamed the condition is called diverticulitis. As with many medical concerns, this problem becomes more common as people get older.

Some patients experience diarrhea, constipation, or mild symptoms of cramping in the lower abdomen, from diverticulosis. Most people assume these symptoms are simply related to their diet, age or just indigestion, and do not realize that they have diverticulosis. However, it is important for a person to know if they have diverticulosis because more severe complications, such as bleeding, infection, bowel obstruction, or rupture can eventually occur. Diverticulosis or diverticulitis can be diagnosed by colonoscopy, CT scan or other x-rays.

If diverticulosis is present without any signs of infection, a physician will usually recommend a high fiber diet and the avoidance of constipation. However, if a patient has attacks of diverticulitis requiring antibiotics, or if any of the complications of diverticulosis develop, consideration should be given to surgical treatment. Often, removal of the involved portion of intestine permanently solves the problem.

Usually diverticulosis involves a portion of the colon called the sigmoid colon. This area can be removed with minimal after effects – and actually most patients find that many of their previous symptoms of indigestion disappear after the surgery.

It is very unusual for a patient to have diverticulitis come back after surgery. When choosing a surgeon for this type of operation, it is important to select board certified surgeons, with experience in this type of procedure.