SKIP TO CONTENT

Articles

Learn about diverticulitis and what the common questions are for it.

Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis is a strange word, but for many people, it’s a word they have come to know well. This colon condition occurs in roughly 10 percent of people over age 40, in 50 percent of those over age 50 and affects nearly everyone over the age of 80.

As common as diverticulitis is, the chances of developing the condition is high for most Americans as they age. Let’s read on to discover what you need to know about this common colon ailment.

What Is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis occurs when an outpouching within the colon, known as diverticulosis, becomes inflamed and infected. Put simply, diverticulosis occurs when small pouches, or sacs, begin to grow and push out in certain spots in the wall of your colon. Commonly found in the lower part of your colon, called the sigmoid colon, diverticulitis can be hard to spot as most people may not show symptoms or have problems.

When diverticulosis does cause symptoms or problems, you may be diagnosed with diverticular disease. Common symptoms of diverticular disease include changes to bowel movements, pain in the abdomen or diverticular bleeding.

French pathologist Jean Cruveilhier was thought to provide the first pathologic description of diverticular disease in 1849. In 1899, German surgeon Ernest Grazer described what we now know as the most common clinical manifestation of this condition: Diverticulitis of the sigmoid colon.
Though common, diverticulitis can lead to serious complications such asabscesses, perforations and impactions if left untreated.

What Are the Symptoms of Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis most commonly occurs in the sigmoid colon and usually presents with left lower abdominal pain. It can also be accompanied with fever, nausea, bloating and diarrhea.

When symptoms and pain occur, it can be referred to as a diverticulitis attack or flare-up. The most common complaint is a sudden sharp pain in the lower abdomen that may persist for several days without relief.
While the pain is most commonly reported in the lower left side of abdomen, those of Asian descent could more commonly feel diverticulitis pain on the lower right side of their abdomen.

There can be many other causes of left lower abdominal pain such as irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and inflammatory bowel disease, so it is important to get any new abdominal pain checked by a primary care provider. If the pain is severe, visit an emergency room for evaluation.

How Is Diverticulitis Diagnosed?

If your healthcare provider suspects you have diverticulitis, they may begin by checking vital signs and assessing your abdomen for pain. The diagnosis of diverticulitis is confirmed using a computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan. If diverticulitis is suspected, your doctor may also perform blood tests to check for an elevated white blood cell count, which is commonly found during infection.

If you have never had a colonoscopy in the past, this procedure could be ordered to rule out any other causes of abdominal pain such as colitis or cancer.

Other common tests your healthcare provider could order include

  • Stool test to check for infection
  • Blood and urine test
  • Live enzyme test to rule out liver disease
  • Pregnancy test for women

What are Treatments for Diverticulitis?

If you have been diagnosed with diverticulitis and the infected part of the colon has not ruptured or formed an abscess, most cases can be treated as outpatient with a liquid diet and oral antibiotics.

More serious forms of diverticulitis can occur when the diverticular outpouchings rupture or form an abscess. When these complications occur, the diverticulitis is considered complicated and requires hospitalization for IV antibiotics, IV fluids for hydration and possible surgical resection of the diseased portion of the colon.

"Sometimes the infection will drain into a neighboring organ such as the bladder or vagina. This requires resection of the diseased portion of the colon as well as the neighboring organ affected, said Carrie Geurts, MS, APRN, CNP, a board-certified nurse practitioner with INTEGRIS Colon and Rectal Surgery.

Some patients have uncomplicated diverticulitis, but the infections are very recurrent or become frequent in nature. In this case, those patients are referred for consultation for surgical removal of the diseased portion of the colon causing the recurrent infections.

What Are My Risk Factors for Diverticulitis?

While age is the largest risk factor for diverticulitis, the exact cause of diverticulitis isn’t yet known. However, certain factors can put you at a greater risk to develop the disorder. These include:

  • Smoking
  • Being Dehydrated - Your body has a harder time digesting food and passing waste through the colon if you are chronically dehydrated.
  • Being Overweight - Added weight can put more pressure and strain on the colon.
  • Certain Medications - Opioids, steroids and even nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also weaken or inflame the colon wall.
  • Lack of exercise - Those who engage in regular exercise seem to have less odds of developing diverticulitis.
  • Too Much Straining - Straining when taking a bowel movement also puts extra stress on the colon wall and could irritate the sensitive lining.

How Do I Prevent Diverticulitis?

You can take steps now that will help reduce your risk for the condition or could ease symptoms of diverticulitis. Some ways you can protect your colon from diverticulitis include:

  • Eating more fiber - A high fiber diet includes whole grains, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, seeds, nuts and legumes. Limit your intake of red meat, high-fat dairy and fried foods. The American Dietary Guidelines recommends a dietary fiber intake of 28 grams per day based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
  • Get enough water - The common suggestion is to consume at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water or low-sugar fluids a day.
  • Maintain a healthy weight - Carrying extra pounds adds more stress to your colon.
  • Don’t smoke - Smoking not only affects your lungs, it can disrupt your digestive system and other parts of your body as well. Limit alcohol consumption - Drinking too much alcohol leads to dehydration and can kill off the good bacteria in your digestive system.
  • Don’t strain too hard - If you strain while having a bowel movement, consider taking a mild stool softener to help move waste from the body.

For more information about diverticulitis and treatments, talk with your INTEGRIS Health physician today.