Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Diverticula are small sacs that sometimes form in the wall of the intestine.When these sacs become infected and inflamed, a condition known asdiverticulitis results.

What is going on in the body?

The term diverticulosis means the presence of many diverticulain the bowel. A person’s diet is thought to play a role in the formation ofdiverticula. Diverticula do not usually cause symptoms. But if diverticulabecome inflamed, symptoms usually do occur.

What are the causes and risks of the disease?

Diverticulitis can only occur in people who have diverticulosis.Both conditions are more common in people older than 50.

Diverticulosis is more common in people who have a lowintake of fiberin their diets. Diverticula usually occur in the left side of the large bowel orcolon. This may be due to higher pressure in this part of the bowel.

Once a diverticulum has formed, it may become infected. Thisinfection causes the inflammation and symptoms of diverticulitis.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?

Diverticulitis, which may be either mild or severe, can cause:

  • abdominal distress,especially in the lower left quarter of the abdomen
  • constipation
  • fever
  • tenderness when the abdomen is touched
  • tightness in the abdominal muscles, known asabdominal rigidity
  • blood in the stool
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the disease diagnosed?

    Diverticulitis is suspected after a history and physical examination.A history of lower, left-sided abdominal pain is a clue. The physical exam oftenreveals a tender abdomen. Tightness of the abdominal muscles, calledabdominal rigidity,suggests serious infection. The white blood cell count is often elevated.A test called a CTscan may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the disease?

    The key is to prevent the diverticulosis from developing. Eatinga diet high in fiberand low in dietary fatis thought to decrease the risk of diverticulosis. Once diverticula form, thereare no other ways known to prevent the disease.

    What are the long-term effects of the disease?

    Most people will recover without long-term health effects. However,because diverticulosis still exists, the disease can occur again. If it happensmany times, surgery may be needed to remove part of the colon.

    Severe cases may also lead to other serious complications, such as:

  • developing a hole in the bowel
  • abdominal infections such as peritonitis
  • life-threatening blood infections known as sepsis
  • blockage of the bowel
  • Death may also occur.

    What are the risks to others?

    The disease is not catching and poses no risk to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the disease?

    Mild cases can be treated at home with a clear liquid dietand antibiotics for about a week. In more serious cases, the person mustbe treated in the hospital. In this setting, the bowel is allowed to rest. Thismeans the person should not eat or drink anything. Fluids and antibioticsare given through an intravenous line called an IV. Surgery may be needed if the bowelhas holes, blockages, or abscesses. Some people may need surgery toremove part of the bowel.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Antibiotics can cause many side effects, including rashes,stomach upset, and allergic reactions. Surgery carries a risk of bleedingand infection.

    What happens after treatment for the disease?

    Most people will recover completely. More studies of theinside of the bowel, such as X-ray tests, may be done after recovery.

    How is the disease monitored?

    Some people have repeated attacks of diverticulitis. If a classicsymptom such as left-sided abdominal pain reappears, the person shouldsee a doctor right away. Blood tests and X-ray tests may be used tomonitor the disease. Any new or worsening symptoms should always bereported to the doctor.

    Article type: xmedgeneral