What Exactly is Diverticulitis?

Woman Has Stomach Ache Sitting on Bench at Park

Diverticula are small pouches that may develop in the digestive system, primarily in the lower part of the colon. These pouches are common, especially for patients over the age of 40. Doctors are not entirely certain what causes these pouches to form, but evidence suggests that a low-fiber diet may be a contributing factor. Diverticula themselves rarely cause problem. When infection and inflammation set into these pouches, however, the much more problematic diverticulitis may occur.

A diverticulitis flare-up may last anywhere from a few hours to more than a week. These flare-ups are accompanied by a variety of symptoms, which may include:

  • Abdominal pain – This pain may be quite severe and may get worse when the patient moves or rests in certain positions. Pain commonly appears in the lower left side of the abdomen.

  • Fever and chills

  • Gas and bloating

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Loss of appetite

  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting

Your doctor may need to perform some tests to determine is the cause of symptoms truly is diverticulitis. These tests may include blood tests, X-Rays, or CT scans. Once diverticulitis has been confirmed, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection in the diverticula. In severe cases, prescription painkillers may be ordered to help manage symptoms. In more mild cases, abdominal pain may be eased by application of heating pad and/or use of over-the-counter painkillers. Eating a diet high in fiber and staying well-hydrated may help prevent future attacks.

Left untreated, diverticulitis may lead to serious complications. Some more common complications of untreated diverticulitis include:

  • Abscess, or a collection of pus

  • Scarring in the intestine, causing blockage

  • Fistula, an uncommon passageway between the intestine and bladder

  • Peritonitis, or spreading of the infection into the peritoneal cavity, similar to the primary complication of a ruptured appendix. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate surgery.

Diverticulitis primarily occurs in the lower left quadrant of the abdomen, but may occur in other locations. Symptoms may closely resemble those of appendicitis. If you are experiencing mild symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment. If you are experiencing severe symptoms and your doctor is unavailable, it may be wise to be cautious and go to the emergency room.

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