Know the basics
What is diverticulitis?
The large intestine (colon) is the final section of the gastrointestinal tract that performs the vital task of absorbing water and vitamins while converting digested food into feces. Food passes through it just before waste leaves the body as a bowel movement (stool).
In diverticular disease, parts of the colon wall are weak. These weak places can puff out like small sacs. Each sac is called a diverticulum. These parts can become red and swollen (inflamed) and infected.
Diverticulitis is the disorder when these sacks become inflamed and infected. Diverticulitis can be a minor inflammation or a serious infection. Complications include hemorrhage (bleeding from your colon), rupture of colon wall, bowel blockage, and abscesses.
How common is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is common. Research shows that 3 in every 100 people have diverticulitis. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
Know the symptoms
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
The common symptoms of diverticulitis include:
- Cramping and pain in the lower abdomen (belly) that is irregular at first, but the will be more frequent and eventually become a constant pain.
- Feeling bloated.
- Constipation or diarrhea;
- Loss of appetite and nausea.
In mild cases of diverticulitis, there might not be any symptoms at all. Symptoms of diverticulitis tend to be more serious and include:
- More severe abdominal pain, especially on the left side;
- Fever of 38oC or above.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Pain in the abdomen;
- Fever or chills;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Unusual changes in your bowel movements or abdominal swelling;
- Blood in your stool;
- Pain that is worse when you move;
- Burning pain when you urinate;
- Abnormal vaginal discharge.
Know the causes
What causes diverticulitis?
This disorder can occur if breakdown products from food move too slowly through the colon. Pressure in the colon from feces and food by-products causes weak spots.
Weakened colon walls lead to diverticulitis. The weaken structure causes small abscesses on your colon walls. These abscesses become inflamed and infected, which causes symptoms. Diverticulitis is not contagious or cancerous.
Know the risk factors
What increases my risk for diverticulitis?
There are many risk factors for diverticulitis, such as:
- Eat a low-fiber diet;
- Have a family history of diverticulitis;
- Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or aspirin regularly (more than 4 days a week) for many years.
Understand the diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is diverticulitis diagnosed?
The doctor will make a diagnosis from a medical history, physical examination, blood tests, x-rays, and computed tomography (CT). Blood tests will check for infection, while CT photos will show the inflammation and infection. Certain tests such as colonoscopy and barium enema shouldn’t be done when you suspect diverticulitis because they may cause the colon to burst at the place of diverticulitis.
How is diverticulitis treated?
Outpatient treatment is usual, unless symptoms are severe and widespread infection or complications occur. A good rest, stool softeners medication, lots of liquid and high-fibre diet can often ease symptoms of diverticular disease.
Paracetamol can be used to relieve pain. Other painkillers such as aspirin or ibuprofen are not recommended for regular use, as they can cause stomach upsets. Mild diverticulitis can usually be treated at home with antibiotics prescribed by your doctor.
For severe or complicated cases, surgical removal of the affected part of the colon can be recommended. Surgery is also used for frequent diverticulitis to remove the affected area of the colon.
If a hospital stay is needed, treatment is similar, but intravenous fluids and antibiotics are given, together with pain medicine. At first, eating may not be allowed. Then, high-fiber, low-fat foods are slowly returned to the diet.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage diverticulitis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with diverticulitis:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes normal bowel function and reduces pressure inside your colon. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes on most days.
- Eat more fiber. High-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, soften waste material and help it pass more quickly through your colon. This reduces pressure inside your digestive tract. However, it isn’t clear whether a high-fiber diet decreases the risk of diverticulitis. Eating seeds and nuts isn’t associated with developing diverticulitis.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Fiber works by absorbing water and increasing the soft, bulky waste in your colon. But if you don’t drink enough liquid to replace what’s absorbed, fiber can be constipating.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ferri, Fred. Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders / Elsevier, 2012. Print edition. Page 279. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Diverticulis directory. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/diverticulitis-directory. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Diverticulis disease. http://inlandpainmedicine.com/assets/resources/Diverticular_Disease.pdf. Accessed June 12, 2016.
Review Date: May 30, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017