What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis: Overview

Diverticulitis occurs when pouches form in the wall of the colon and become inflamed or infected. It can be very painful.

Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticulitis. There is no proof that foods such as nuts, seeds, or berries cause it or make it worse. A low-fiber diet can cause small, hard stools. This means it takes more pressure in the colon to move stools out of the body. This puts more pressure on the walls of the colon. The pressure from this may cause pouches to form in weak spots along the colon.

This condition may sometimes be treated by resting the bowel and taking medicines.

As you recover, high-fiber foods may help you avoid future problems.

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a condition that happens when pouches that form in the wall of your large intestine get inflamed or infected. This can be very painful. Symptoms may last from a few hours to several days.

It's usually treated with a liquid diet, antibiotics, and pain relievers. A hospital stay or even surgery to remove the diseased part of the colon may be needed if complications develop or other treatments don't help.

What happens when you have diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis occurs when pouches (diverticula) that have formed in the wall of the large intestine (colon) become inflamed or infected. It is not known why some people who have these pouches (diverticulosis) develop diverticulitis and others do not.

Mild attacks of diverticulitis, with few symptoms of infection or inflammation, sometimes heal without treatment. In most cases, doctors prescribe oral antibiotics. They may also suggest a clear liquid diet to rest the bowel until it isn't inflamed.

When infection and symptoms are severe, diverticulitis is treated in the hospital. Treatment includes antibiotics given in a vein (I.V.) and resting the bowel with I.V. fluids. If symptoms are severe and not treated, problems such as an abscess or fistula may happen. Surgery often is needed to treat these.

It is common to have lower belly pain after recovering from an attack of diverticulitis. But this pain doesn't always mean it's returned.

What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?

Belly pain, often in the lower left side, is the most common symptom of diverticulitis. The pain is sometimes worse when you move. Other symptoms include fever, chills, bloating, and gas. You may also have diarrhea or constipation. Symptoms can last from a few hours to several days, or longer if not treated.

How is diverticulitis treated?

Treatment for mild symptoms of diverticulitis starts with antibiotics, pain medicines, and diet changes. You can try home treatment, such as a heating pad, for pain. To treat serious symptoms, you may need a hospital stay or surgery.

How is bowel rest used to treat diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis can sometimes be treated with bowel rest. This can be done at home by eating less and drinking clear liquids for a few days. You may also take antibiotics.

If you need treatment in the hospital, you are not given anything to eat but instead receive fluids and nutrients and antibiotics through a tube connected to a vein (I.V.). Suction through a tube placed in the nose and down into the stomach may be needed to keep the stomach emptied of digestive juices.

After 2 to 3 days of bowel rest, you are given something to eat. If diverticulitis has cleared up, no surgery is needed. If it remains, bowel rest may be continued. If repeated periods of bowel rest fail to help, surgery to remove the diseased part of the colon may be considered.

How can you prevent diverticulitis?

You may be able to lower your chance of getting diverticulitis. You can do this by taking steps to prevent constipation.

  • Eat fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains every day. These foods are high in fiber.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. Walking is a good choice.
  • Take a fiber supplement (such as Citrucel or Metamucil) every day if needed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Having a daily routine may help. Take your time and do not strain when having a bowel movement.

How is diverticulitis diagnosed?

To diagnose diverticulitis, your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms and examine you. The doctor may do tests to see if you have an infection or to make sure that you don't have other problems. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC).
  • Other tests, such as a CT scan, ultrasound, MRI, or X-ray of your belly. These may help find the cause of belly pain and other symptoms.
  • A digital rectal exam. This looks for tenderness or a mass in the lower pelvic area.
  • A fecal occult blood test. This looks for blood in your stool.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy. These may be done if you have bleeding or to look for narrow spots or growths in the bowel.

How can you care for yourself when you have diverticulitis?

  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Stay with liquids or start with small amounts of food until you are feeling better. Then you can return to regular foods and slowly increase the amount of fiber in your diet.
  • Get extra rest until you are feeling better.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Do not use laxatives or enemas unless your doctor tells you to use them.

What increases your risk of diverticulitis?

The possibility of having diverticulitis increases with age.

You may be more likely to develop diverticulitis if you:

  • Eat a low-fiber diet.
  • Have a family history of diverticulosis.
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or aspirin regularly (more than 4 days a week) for many years.

What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is a condition that happens when pouches (diverticula) form in the wall of the colon and then become inflamed or infected. This can cause tenderness, cramps, or pain in the belly. Not everyone who has these pouches gets diverticulitis. Mild attacks may heal on their own.

What causes diverticulitis?

Doctors aren't sure what causes diverticulitis. Bacteria grow in pouches (diverticula) that sometimes form in the wall of the colon. These bacteria can lead to inflammation or infection. Doctors think diverticula form when high pressure inside the colon pushes against weak spots in the colon wall.

Diverticulitis: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
  • You have new or worse belly pain.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have nausea or vomiting.
  • You have diarrhea or constipation.
  • You have unusual changes in your bowel movements.
  • You have bloating.
  • You cannot pass stools or gas.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.