This common colon disease develops when small pouches form in the colon wall and become infected, causing pain, fever and abnormal bowel function.
Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. They are found most often in the lower part of the large intestine (colon). Diverticula are common, especially after age 40, and seldom cause problems.
The presence of diverticula is known as diverticulosis (die-vur-tik-yoo-LOE-sis). When one or more of the pouches become inflamed, and in some cases infected, that condition is known as diverticulitis (die-vur-tik-yoo-LIE-tis). Diverticulitis can cause severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a marked change in your bowel habits.
Mild diverticulitis can be treated with rest, changes in your diet and antibiotics. Severe or recurring diverticulitis may require surgery.
Diverticulosis occurs when small, bulging pouches (diverticula) develop in your digestive tract. When one or more of these pouches become inflamed or infected, the condition is called diverticulitis.
The signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include:
Get medical attention anytime you have constant, unexplained abdominal pain, particularly if you also have a fever and constipation or diarrhea.
Diverticula usually develop when naturally weak places in your colon give way under pressure. This causes marble-sized pouches to protrude through the colon wall.
Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula tear, resulting in inflammation, and in some cases, infection.
Several factors may increase your risk of developing diverticulitis:
About 25% of people with acute diverticulitis develop complications, which may include:
To help prevent diverticulitis:
Diverticulitis is usually diagnosed during an acute attack. Because abdominal pain can indicate a number of problems, your doctor will need to rule out other causes for your symptoms.
Your doctor will start with a physical examination, which will include checking your abdomen for tenderness. Women generally have a pelvic examination as well to rule out pelvic disease.
After that, the following tests are likely:
Treatment depends on the severity of your signs and symptoms.
If your symptoms are mild, you may be treated at home. Your doctor is likely to recommend:
This treatment is successful in most people with uncomplicated diverticulitis.
If you have a severe attack or have other health problems, you'll likely need to be hospitalized. Treatment generally involves:
You'll likely need surgery to treat diverticulitis if:
There are two main types of surgery:
Your doctor may recommend colonoscopy six weeks after you recover from diverticulitis, especially if you haven't had the test in the previous year. There doesn't appear to be a direct link between diverticular disease and colon or rectal cancer. But colonoscopy — which is risky during a diverticulitis attack — can exclude colon cancer as a cause of your symptoms.
After successful treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery to prevent future episodes of diverticulitis. The decision on surgery is an individual one and is often based on the frequency of attacks and whether complications have occurred.
Some experts suspect that people who develop diverticulitis may not have enough good bacteria in their colons. Probiotics — foods or supplements that contain beneficial bacteria — are sometimes suggested as a way to prevent diverticulitis. But that advice hasn't been scientifically validated.
You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the digestive system (gastroenterologist).
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may make time to go over points you want to spend more time on. You may be asked: