Skip to main content
Alert icon
COVID-19 Resources Click here for details.

Dealing with Diverticulitis

July 07, 2022

Diverticular disease is a common health problem. It is a group of conditions that can affect your digestive tract. Diverticular disease develops when pouches form along your digestive tract, typically in your colon. The pouches generally aren’t harmful and can be anywhere in your intestines.  If you have them, it’s called diverticulosis. It is not known whether diverticulosis can be prevented. Once diverticula have formed, they do not go away. 

The most serious type of diverticular disease is diverticulitis which is the infection or inflammation of these pouches. Diverticulitis occurs in less than five percent of people who have diverticulosis. People with diverticulitis characteristically present with a fairly sudden onset of pain in the abdomen, usually on the lower left side. Other common symptoms include fever, diarrhea and/or constipation, decreased appetite, nausea and fatigue.

Studies show that people who maintain a healthy weight and/or exercise regularly are less likely to develop diverticulitis and diverticular bleeding than those who are overweight or who do not exercise. Avoiding smoking is also likely to help prevent diverticulitis, especially perforated diverticulitis. People who eat a diet high in fiber are less likely to develop diverticulitis than those who eat little fiber. Reducing the amount of red meat in the diet may also decrease the possibility of diverticulitis. Taking certain kinds of drugs, including steroids, opioids, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or naproxen can also impact your chance of developing the disease. Opiate narcotics and corticosteroids also appear to predispose to diverticulitis. Some experts believe that abnormal intermittent high pressure in the colon due to muscle spasms or straining with stool may cause diverticula to form at weak spots in the colon wall. There also appears to be a genetic predisposition to diverticulosis.

Diverticulitis can be acute or chronic. With the acute form, you may have one or more severe attacks of infection and inflammation. In chronic diverticulitis, inflammation and infection may go down but never clear up completely. Over time, the inflammation can lead to a bowel obstruction, which may cause constipation, thin stools, diarrhea, bloating, and belly pain. If the obstruction continues, abdominal pain and tenderness will increase, and you may feel sick to your stomach or throw up.

Diverticulitis can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms can appear suddenly, or develop gradually over several days. Diverticulitis symptoms are more noticeable and include severe abdominal pain and fever. The symptoms of diverticulitis can also look like other problems. Most patients with diverticulosis have no symptoms or complications, and will never know they have the condition unless it is discovered during a routine colonoscopy, endoscopic or radiographic examination. 

More than 75 percent of diverticulitis cases are uncomplicated, leaving about 25 percent to develop complications. If you don’t treat it, diverticulitis can lead to serious complications that require surgery. For people who have diverticulitis without complications, doctors may recommend treatment at home. If your diverticulitis is mild, your doctor will suggest rest and a liquid diet while your intestines heal. They might also give you antibiotics to treat the infection. Your doctor may also suggest that you take a mild pain reliever like acetaminophen.

People with severe diverticulitis, diverticulitis with complications, or are at a high risk for complications usually need treatment in a hospital.  In more severe cases, you might need to stay in the hospital and take intravenous antibiotics. If you have an abdominal abscess, your doctor will drain it. If your intestine is ruptured or you have peritonitis, you’ll need surgery. If your diverticulitis doesn’t improve with treatment or leads to complications, you may need surgery to remove part of your colon, which is called a colectomy or colon resection. In some cases, after a person has diverticulitis without complications, doctors may recommend surgery to remove part of the colon in an effort to prevent diverticulitis from occurring again. Most procedures can be performed as an open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. 

If you have diverticulitis or questions about your risk of developing it, speak with your doctor. They can help you learn how to treat this disease and support your digestive health. If surgery is something you are facing, West Tennessee Medical Group Jackson Surgical Associates specializes in giving the West Tennessee community the best in general surgical care.  Find a surgical provider today!