Diverticulosis occurs when balloon-like pockets develop in the bowel wall. These pockets are called diverticula. It is a very common condition, affecting nearly 50% of people over age 60 and nearly everyone over age 80. These pockets are caused by the pressure on the wall exerted when the colon contracts, as well as by diarrhea or constipation.
Occasionally, diverticulosis may cause lower gastrointestinal bleeding, but they do not cause pain under normal circumstances. However, when an infection takes place, there can be significant abdominal pain. When this happens, it is called diverticulitis. Tiny holes can form in the pockets and bacteria are able to seep through the walls, creating inflammation and an infection outside of the colon.
Some diverticulitis can be managed through diet and antibiotics, but serious bouts of diverticulitis may require hospitalization or even surgery to treat. Symptoms of diverticulitis include extreme pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes constipation or diarrhea. Some patients also experience abdominal abscesses, fistula, or colon blockage.