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Diverticulitis and Ulcerative Colitis: How Are They Different?

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Diverticulitis and ulcerative colitis are two comparable inflammatory bowel diseases. IBD involves chronic inflammation of all or part of your digestive tract.

Diverticulitis is the inflammation of an abnormal pouch, most often in the colon, though it can be found in nearly all parts of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that affects the lining of the colon, according to the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

These two inflammatory bowel conditions have similar symptoms, but ulcerative colitis is usually more severe than diverticulitis.

Ulcerative Colitis

The immune system of someone with ulcerative colitis mistakes food, bacteria and other materials in the intestine for foreign or invading substances. When this happens, the body sends white blood cells into the lining of the intestines, where they produce chronic inflammation and ulcerations, according to the CCFA.

The inflammation of the lining of the colon causes the development of tiny open sores, or ulcers, that produce pus and mucus. The CCFA states that the combination of inflammation and the development of ulcers can cause abdominal discomfort and frequent bowel movements.


About half of all patients with ulcerative colitis experience mild symptoms. These include looser and more urgent bowel movements, and persistent diarrhea accompanied by abdominal pain and blood in the stool.

Stool is generally bloody. Abdominal pain is common, accompanied by loss of appetite and weight loss. A feeling of low energy and fatigue is also often present.


Medication for ulcerative colitis can suppress the inflammation of the colon and allow for tissues to heal. Symptoms including diarrhea, bleeding, and abdominal pain can also be reduced and controlled with effective medication.

For people diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, it is imperative to maintain good nutrition. Many people with ulcerative colitis find that soft, bland foods cause less discomfort than spicy or high-fiber foods, according to the CCFA.

Restricting the intake of dairy foods is recommended for those who are lactose-intolerant.

Common symptoms like diarrhea can reduce your body’s ability to absorb protein, fat, carbohydrates, as well as water, vitamins, and minerals. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet that helps diminish your symptoms, replace lost nutrients, and encourage healing.

CCFA states that, "one-quarter to one-third of patients with ulcerative colitis, medical therapy is not completely successful or complications arise. Under these circumstances, surgery may be considered."


Diverticulosis is a condition where pouches called diverticula form in the colon due to increased pressure that has pushed the wall of the colon outward at certain weak points. Diverticulitis occurs when feces get trapped in the pouches, which leads to inflammation or infection.

Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticulosis to develop, but they think that a low-fiber diet may be a key factor. Without fiber, the colon has to work harder to push the stool forward. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon.


Symptoms include belly pain, fever and chills, bloating and gas, diarrhea or constipation, nausea and sometimes vomiting. Not feeling like eating is also a common symptom.


The treatment you need depends on how severe your symptoms are. You may need to be on a liquid diet at first, and then return to solid food when you start feeling better. Your doctor may give you medicines for pain and antibiotics depending on the severity.

Surgery is only considered if your pain does not improve with conservative treatments or you have other bowel issues that need surgical repair.


What is Ulcerative Colitis? Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America. Accessed April 13, 2015.

Diverticulitis - Topic Overview. WebMD. Accessed April 13, 2015.

Colitis and Diverticulitis Symptoms. Livestrong. Accessed April 13, 2015.http://www.livestrong.com/article/191796-colitis-and-diverticulitis-symptoms

Reviewed April 14, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Ulcerative Colitis

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