Diverticulitis is a digestion problem 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 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.


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.

It is not known why some people who have these diverticula get diverticulitis and others do not.

In most cases, a diet with good fiber makes stool that is bulky and can move easily through the colon. 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.


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.


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 is diverticulitis treated?

Treatment depends on how bad your symptoms are. If the pain is mild, you are able to drink liquids, and you have no signs of complications, treatment may include:

  • Medicines such as antibiotics and pain relievers.
  • Changes in diet. These changes start with a clear-liquid or bland diet that is low in fiber. You follow this diet until the pain goes away. You then increase how much fiber you eat.

If the pain is severe, you are not able to drink liquids, or you have complications of diverticulitis, you may need a hospital stay. Treatment will include:

  • Antibiotics given in a vein (intravenous, or I.V.).
  • Fluids and food given through your vein only (no food or drink by mouth) for up to a week. This allows the bowel to rest.

Sometimes surgery is needed to treat some problems or repeated attacks.

When to call

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.


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.

Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.


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