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Diverticulitis

Digestive system
Colon diverticula - series

Definition

Diverticulitis is small, bulging sacs or pouches of the inner lining of the intestine (diverticulosis) that become inflamed or infected. Most often, these pouches are in the large intestine (colon).

Causes

No one knows exactly what causes the sacs, or pouches of diverticulosis to form. Eating a low-fiber diet is one of the most likely causes.

People who eat mostly processed food, as many Americans eat, do not get enough fiber in their diet. Processed foods include white rice, white bread, most breakfast cereals, crackers, and pretzels.

As a result, constipation and hard stools are more likely to occur - causing people to strain when passing stools. This increases the pressure in the colon or intestines and may cause these pouches to form.

Diverticulosis is very common. It is found in more than half of Americans over age 60.

Diverticulitis is caused by small pieces of stool (feces) that become trapped in these pouches, causing infection or inflammation.

Symptoms

People with diverticulosis often have no symptoms, but they may have bloating and cramping in the lower part of the belly. Rarely, they may notice blood in their stool or on toilet paper.

Symptoms of diverticulitis are more severe and often start suddenly, but they may become worse over a few days. They include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine you. Blood tests may be ordered to see if you have an infection.

Other tests that help diagnose diverticulitis may include:

Treatment

The treatment of diverticulitis depends on the severity of your symptoms. Some people may need to be in the hospital, but usually you can treat this problem at home.

To help with the pain, your doctor may suggest that you:

The doctor may treat you with antibiotics.

After you are better, your doctor will suggest that you add more fiber to your diet and avoid certain foods. Eating more fiber can help prevent future attacks. If you have bloating or gas, reduce the amount of fiber you eat for a few days.

Once these pouches have formed, you will have them for life. If you make a few simple changes in your lifestyle, you may not have diverticulitis again.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Usually, this is a mild condition that responds well to treatment. Some people will have more than one attack of diverticulitis.

Possible Complications

More serious problems that may develop are:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms of diverticulitis occur.

Also call if you have diverticulitis and:

References

Fox JM, Stollman NH. Diverticular disease of the colon. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 117.


Review Date: 4/16/2012
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Health Soutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California (1/31/2011).