A diverticulum is a small pocket or pouch that forms in the wall of the large intestine. These pouches, or diverticuli, are often found on screening colonoscopies and usually don’t cause any problems. Diverticulitis occurs when the diverticuli become inflamed. Significant bleeding in the GI tract can result.
We don’t know why these pouches form, but the following may contribute:
- Low-fiber diet — Fiber softens stools and makes them pass through the bowel more easily
- Increased pressure in the bowel from straining to pass a hard stool
- Defects in the colon wall
- Chronic constipation
These factors increase your chance of getting diverticulitis:
- Eating a low-fiber diet
- Age: 50 or older
- Previous episodes of diverticulitis
- High-meat diet or high-protein diet
- Chronic constipation
Most diverticulosis causes no symptoms, but infection can cause:
- Tenderness, usually in the lower left part of the abdomen
- Poor appetite
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Rectal bleeding
It’s important to identify bleeding or infection early. Badly infected diverticulosis can break, releasing stool into the abdomen, causing a medical emergency that usually requires surgery.
Your doctor can diagnose your condition using:
- Stool sample analysis
- Blood tests
- Images/radiological scans like X-rays, CT, ultrasound
After the inflammation subsides, your doctor may also examine your colon with a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy.
Treatment for Diverticulitis
Asymptomatic diverticulosis doesn’t require treatment.
If you have an infection, your provider may give you antibiotics with medicine to prevent vomiting.
Though some recommended this in the past, no evidence supports avoiding certain foods like seeds, nuts and popcorn.
To help avoid constipation:
- Increase the amount of fiber you eat by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Supplement your diet with a fiber product, as advised by your doctor.
- Avoid narcotic medications — they can slow down bowel movement and cause constipation.
Surgery to remove the section of the bowel with pouches may be recommended if:
- You have had multiple attacks
- A pouch breaks and the contents leak into the abdominal cavity, which then requires cleaning
You may also need surgery to treat complications of diverticulitis, such as:
- Abscess — occurs if the infected pouch fills with pus
- Blocked bowel — scar tissue that forms and blocks movement of stool through the intestine
- Fistula — occurs if the inflammation spreads to another organ, such as the bladder or the uterus/vagina
During an elective surgery, the surgeon will usually remove the diseased part of the bowel and connect the normal parts of the bowel back together.
During an emergency surgery, the surgeon will remove the diseased part of the bowel but not connect the healthy parts right away. Your bowel will need time to rest and heal. Meanwhile, the upper part of the bowel will attach to the abdominal wall to allow waste to pass from the intestine to a bag outside of your body.
If you are diagnosed with diverticulitis, follow your doctor's instructions.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.