What is diverticulitis?
Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that form in the lining of the digestive system, most often in the colon. When one or more of the pouches become inflamed or infected, the condition is known as diverticulitis.
What causes diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula tear, resulting in inflammation and in some cases infection. Its exact causes are unknown.
Who is at risk for diverticulitis?
Risk factors of diverticulitis may include:
- Diet, specifically low fiber and high fat intake
- Certain medicines, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and steroids
- Lack of exercise
- Decrease in healthy bacteria and increase in disease-causing bacteria in your colon
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a marked change in your bowel habits.
How is diverticulitis diagnosed?
Diverticulitis is typically diagnosed during an attack, which can include experiencing sharp pain and cramping in the lower abdomen. To diagnose it, doctors begin with a physical examination, checking your abdomen to assess tenderness. Women can also have pelvic examinations to rule out pelvic disease.
After that, doctors might administer the following:
- Blood and urine tests to check for signs of infection
- A pregnancy test for women of childbearing age to rule out pregnancy, which could cause abdominal pain
- A liver enzyme test to rule out liver-related causes of abdominal pain
- A stool test to rule out infection
- A CT scan, which can show inflamed or infected pouches and confirm a diagnosis of diverticulitis
How is diverticulitis treated?
If you have uncomplicated diverticulitis — when symptoms are mild — treatment can occur at home. It can include antibiotics to treat infection and a liquid diet for a short period of time while your bowel heals.
Complicated diverticulitis, which can include severe attacks, is usually treated at the hospital and can be treated by intravenous antibiotics or draining an abdominal abscess if one has formed.
Diverticulitis may require surgery, specifically if it is causing complications, if you have had multiple episodes of uncomplicated diverticulitis or if you have a weakened immune system.
What are the possible complications of diverticulitis?
Nearly a quarter of people with acute, or severe, diverticulitis develop complications, which can include:
- An abscess, occurring when pus collects in the pouch
- A blockage in the bowel resulting from scarring
- An abnormal passageway, or fistula, between sections of the bowel or the bowel and other organs
- Peritonitis, a medical emergency that requires care immediately. Peritonitis can occur if the infected or inflamed pouch ruptures and spills intestinal contents into the abdominal cavity
- Diverticulitis. (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diverticulitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20371758
- Diverticulitis: Diagnosis. (2020). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diverticulitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20371764
- Diverticulitis: Symptoms & Causes of Diverticular Disease. (2016). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diverticulosis-diverticulitis/symptoms-causes#diverticulitis