What is Sigmoid Diverticulosis?

Emma Lloyd

Sigmoid diverticulosis is a condition in which small pouches called diverticula form on the wall of the sigmoid colon, which is the part of the large intestine that connects to the rectum. It's typically associated with certain risk factors, including age and a poor diet. Though many people with this disorder have few symptoms, it can cause pain and digestive dysfunction. It is often treatable with medication and lifestyle changes, though severe cases may require surgery.

Diagram showing the sigmoid colon and other parts of the digestive system.
Diagram showing the sigmoid colon and other parts of the digestive system.

Causes and Risk Factors

It's not entirely clear why people develop sigmoid diverticulosis, but diet, position while defecating, and age likely play a role. People who eat a diet that is low in fiber may need the sigmoid colon to make strong contractions before they can pass stools, which may stress the intestinal tissue and contribute to the formation of diverticula. Those that sit as in a chair while defecating instead of squatting tend to strain more, which is thought to be harder on the colon as well. Additionally, as people age, the connective fibers in the intestines tend to deteriorate and lose their strength, which could contribute to the formation of pouches.

Diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.
Diagram showing diverticulitis and other colon diseases.

Since there are several possible causes that likely work together with each other, there are a variety of risk factors for this condition. One major one is a low-fiber diet. Fiber aids in the passageway of stool through the colon by adding bulk and moisture, which decreases the strength of the contraction necessary to propel it through the system. Eating lots of red meat can also contribute to the development of this condition, since it is hard to digest, as can chronic constipation, smoking, and obesity. Aging is particularly associated with sigmoid diverticulosis because of the weakening of the colon wall as well as the increased likelihood of having other digestive conditions that irritate the intestines.

OTC painkillers can help with pain from sigmoid diverticulitis.
OTC painkillers can help with pain from sigmoid diverticulitis.


This condition develops over time, and it can take years for symptoms to appear. When people do start experiencing symptoms, they usually have nausea, vomiting, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, and a fever. Some people also pass blood in their stool, or have abdominal pain, especially on the left side of the body, since that's where the sigmoid colon is located. Anyone who experiences sudden rectal bleeding or intense abdominal pain should seek medical care, since this could be a sign of life-threatening complications.

Some patients with sigmoid diverticulosis experience fever and nausea.
Some patients with sigmoid diverticulosis experience fever and nausea.


In the early stages, sigmoid diverticulosis can be treated at home with dietary and lifestyle modifications, including eating more fiber and exercising regularly. People with a history of diverticula may want to avoid food with small seeds in it, since these can get stuck in the pouches and irritate them. Any pain or intestinal cramps can often be relieved with a heating pad and over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to relieve pain or gas. Elderly people should speak with a healthcare professional before taking painkillers though, since using Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) is associated with an increased risk of complications in older people.

Regular consumption of vegetables and other dietary fiber helps maintain good colon health.
Regular consumption of vegetables and other dietary fiber helps maintain good colon health.

More severe cases of sigmoid diverticulosis may require prescription medications including pain management and antispasmodics to decrease the contracts of the colon. People who have severe or frequent attacks of diverticulosis may need surgery to repair or remove abscesses and lesions, repair tears in the colon wall, removing bowel obstructions, or removing entire sections of intestine.


The most common complication of sigmoid diverticulosis is diverticulitis, which occurs when the diverticula become infected and inflamed. This causes a fever, intense pain in the lower left abdomen, a fever, nausea, and increased urination if the infection is near the bladder. If diverticulitis is left untreated, it can cause peritonitis, a condition in which waste from the intestines enters the abdominal cavity, causing severe inflammation and infection. Once this happens, infection can spread to other parts of the body through the blood, a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.

Connective fibers in the intestines deteriorate and lose their strength as people age.
Connective fibers in the intestines deteriorate and lose their strength as people age.

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Discussion Comments


It is a myth that nuts and seeds get stuck in the diverticula. Also, a low fiber diet is recommended in flare ups followed by a high fiber diet in remission - Dietician


I have severe intense pain in my lower bowel. The pain is below my genitals. I must sit to urinate, since I can't pee standing up. The pain lasts for 30 hours and I feel I will die. Keflex helps after 22 hours. 500 mg 3x day. The doctor saw extensive sigmoid diverticulitis on the CT scan., but I cannot have a colonoscopy due to very weak heart and high blood pressure.

What now? The pain begins after two or three days of constipation, then builds to knives cutting from inside. I was ready to shoot myself from the pain.


Lady Soma makes the best probiotics ever! I have suffered from diverticulitis flare ups in the past but since taking this I have not had one (almost two years now)! It does not need to be refrigerated so it's great for traveling too.


I have a friend who has diverticulosis of the sigmoid colon and she not only increased her dietary intake of fiber, she also makes sure she exercises frequently. Any movement helps. If she can't get to the gym, she will go for a walk, or even do light stretching or yoga in her living room. She says by keeping her "movements regular" with these simple lifestyle changes, her symptoms have decreased quite a bit. Any one else have any suggestions?


While they seem to be different in many ways, diverticulosis sounds a lot like Crohn's disease in some ways. For one this, they are both problems with the digestive system which can cause anything from nausea to constipation, and people often do not realize that they have it right away.

The big differences are that Crohn's disease is often a condition people are born with and/or have some sort of hereditary likelihood for, and it is an inflammation, whereas this disease is an actual change in the structure caused by lifestyle issues. If you have any of these symptoms, though, you really ought to go to a doctor; if it is neither of these ailments, it could also possibly be irritable bowel syndrome, another treatable, but not exactly curable, condition of the digestion.

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