GI Problems FAQs

Diverticulitis


What are diverticulosis and diverticulitis?

Many people have small pouches in their colon that bulge outward through weak spots in the colon wall. Each pouch is called a diverticulum. Multiple pouches are called diverticula. Diverticulitis occurs when the pouches become inflamed or infected.

What are the symptoms of diverticulosis and diverticulitis?

  • With diverticulosis, some individuals may experience pain or discomfort in the lower abdomen, bloating and constipation. Other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and stomach ulcers cause similar problems, so the symptoms do not always mean a person has diverticulosis.
  • With diverticulitis the most common symptom is abdominal pain. Usually the pain is severe and comes on suddenly, but it can also be mild and become worse over several days. The intensity of the pain can fluctuate. A person may experience cramping, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills or a change in bowel habits.

What causes diverticular disease?

The traditional theory is that a low-fiber diet causes diverticular disease. Diverticular disease is common in developed or industrialized countries like the United States, England and Australia where low-fiber diets are consumed. However, recent studies completely refute this hypothesis and no one is certain as to why diverticulitis develops or how to prevent complications. More modern theories focus on the type of bacteria in the gut as a potential factor.

How is diverticular disease diagnosed?

Medical history is reviewed and a physical exam is performed.   The doctor is looking for changes in bowel habits, pain, diet and medications.  Because most people do not have symptoms, diverticulosis is often found through tests ordered for another ailment. If diverticulitis is suspected, the doctor may order one of the following tests:

  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan-a noninvasive x-ray that produces cross-section images of the body. The doctor may inject dye into a vein and the person may be given a similar mixture to swallow. The dye helps “light up” the person’s anatomy on the scan to show complications of diverticulitis such as perforations and abscesses.
  • Contrast studies such as Barium enema
  • Colonoscopy

How is diverticular disease treated?

A high-fiber diet and pain medications usually help relieve symptoms in most cases of diverticulosis. Uncomplicated diverticulitis with mild symptoms usually requires the person to rest, take oral antibiotics and be on a liquid diet for a period of time. Sometimes an attack of diverticulitis is serious enough to require a hospital stay, intravenous (IV) antibiotics, and possibly surgery.

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