Although it was rare before the 20th century, diverticular disease is a very common health problem in the Western world. It’s a group of conditions that can affect your digestive tract.
The most serious type of diverticular disease is diverticulitis. It can cause uncomfortable symptoms and, in some cases, serious complications. If left untreated, these complications can cause long-term health problems.
Read on to learn more about diverticulitis, including its causes, symptoms, treatment options, and how your diet might affect your risk of developing it.
Diverticulitis can cause symptoms ranging from mild to severe. These symptoms can appear suddenly, or they can develop gradually over several days.
Potential symptoms of diverticular disease
If you develop diverticulitis, you might experience:
- constant or severe pain in your abdomen
- nausea and vomiting
- fever and chills
- blood in your stool
- bleeding from your rectum
If you develop any of the above symptoms, it may be a sign of a serious complication from diverticulitis or another condition. Call your doctor right away.
Diverticular disease develops when pouches form along your digestive tract, typically in your colon (large intestine). These pouches (diverticula) can become inflamed and infected, which may occur when feces or partially digested food blocks the opening of the diverticula.
Although there’s no single known cause of diverticular disease, several factors can increase the risk of developing diverticulitis,
These complications can include:
- abscess, an infected pocket that’s filled with pus
- phlegmon, an infected area that’s less well-confined than an abscess
- fistula, an abnormal connection that can develop between two organs or between an organ and the skin
- intestinal perforation, a tear or hole in the intestinal wall that can allow the contents of your colon to leak into your abdominal cavity, causing inflammation and infection
- intestinal obstruction, a blockage in your intestine that can stop stool from passing
To diagnose diverticulitis, your doctor will likely ask about your symptoms, health history, and any medications you take. They’ll likely perform a physical exam to check your abdomen for tenderness.
If they need more information, they may perform a digital rectal exam to check for:
- rectal bleeding
- other problems
Several other conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to diverticulitis. To rule out other conditions and check for signs of diverticulitis, your doctor might order one or more tests.
Tests can include:
- abdominal ultrasound, abdominal MRI scan, abdominal CT scan, or abdominal X-ray to create pictures of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- colonoscopy to examine the inside of your GI tract; although this takes place after a bout of diverticulosis
- stool test to check for infections, such as Clostridium difficile (C. diff)
- urine test to check for infections
- blood tests to check for signs of inflammation, anemia, or kidney or liver problems
- pelvic exam to rule out gynecological problems in people assigned female at birth
- pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy in people assigned female at birth
If you have diverticulitis, these exams and tests can help your doctor learn if it’s uncomplicated or complicated.
Using a colonoscopy to diagnose diverticulitis
If you have symptoms of diverticulitis, your doctor
During a colonoscopy, your doctor will thread a flexible scope into your rectum and colon. They can use this scope to examine the inside of your colon. They can also use it to collect tissue samples for testing.
To help you feel more comfortable during this procedure, you will be sedated beforehand.
In some cases, your doctor might learn that you have diverticula during a routine colonoscopy. If the diverticula aren’t inflamed, infected, or causing symptoms, you probably won’t need treatment.
The treatment that your doctor prescribes for diverticulitis will depend on how severe your condition is.
Uncomplicated diverticulitis can typically be treated at home. Your doctor
If you develop complications from diverticulitis, you
As your symptoms improve, your doctor might encourage you to eat more high fiber foods. Some
Your doctor might also encourage you to limit your consumption of red meat, high-fat dairy products, and refined grain products. A
Diet can play a role in managing diverticulitis and your overall digestive health. Take a moment to learn about some of the foods that might affect your symptoms.
If your symptoms are mild or have started to improve, you may be able to try eating low-fiber foods until your condition gets better. As your condition improves, your doctor will likely encourage you to add more high-fiber foods to your snacks and meals.
To reduce pain or discomfort from diverticulitis, your doctor might recommend over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol).
If they suspect you have an infection, they’ll likely
It’s important to take your full course of prescribed antibiotics, even if your symptoms improve after the first few doses.
If you develop a complicated case of diverticulitis that can’t be treated through diet and medication alone, your doctor
- Needle drainage. In this procedure, a needle is inserted into your abdomen to drain an abscess of pus.
- Surgery. Surgeries may involve draining an abscess of pus, repairing a fistula, or removing infected segments of the colon.
If you experience multiple episodes of diverticulitis that can’t be effectively managed with dietary changes and medications, your doctor
Bowel resection with anastomosis
During a bowel resection with anastomosis, a surgeon removes infected segments of your colon and reattaches the healthy segments to each other.
Bowel resection with colostomy
Both procedures can be performed as open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Learn more about the types of surgery that can be used to treat diverticulitis.
Home remedies for diverticulitis mostly consist of making dietary changes, but there are a few other options that may be helpful for symptoms and digestive health.
Some home remedies for diverticulitis include:
- Probiotics. Although more research is needed,
some studieshave found that certain strains of probiotics might help relieve or prevent symptoms of diverticulitis.
- Aromatherapy. Certain essential oils have been
shownto reduce pain, which could be beneficial for managing your symptoms.
- Acupuncture. Not only can acupuncture
improvedigestive issues like constipation, but some researchalso suggests that it could help treat chronic pain.
- Herbs. Several herbs
possesspowerful anti-inflammatory properties, including ginger, turmeric, and rosemary. However, more research is needed to evaluate the effects of these herbs on diverticulitis specifically.
In some cases, Meckel’s diverticulum doesn’t cause noticeable effects. In other cases, it can cause symptoms
- abdominal pain
- bloody stool
- bleeding from the rectum
If you suspect your child might have diverticulitis, make an appointment with their doctor. Learn about some of the strategies pediatricians can use to diagnose and manage Meckel’s diverticulum.
More research is needed to learn what causes diverticular disease, including diverticulitis. Currently, experts believe multiple factors play a part. Some potential risk factors may be modified through lifestyle changes.
For example, it
- try to maintain a moderate body weight
- eat a diet that’s high in fiber to help bulk up stools (however, in acute diverticulitis, you may want to avoid fiber)
- limit your consumption of saturated fat
- get enough vitamin D
- get regular exercise if possible
- try to avoid cigarette smoke
These prevention strategies can also help promote good overall health.
One of the main risk factors for diverticulitis is age. Older people are more likely than younger people to develop diverticulitis. It
People who develop diverticula at a
According to a
Studies have found that genetics play a role in diverticular disease, with some reports estimating that roughly
Low levels of vitamin D
It’s possible that obesity raises the risk of diverticulitis by changing the balance of bacteria in your gut, but more research is needed to understand the role this plays.
Using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or smoking
People who smoke are also more likely than nonsmokers to develop diverticular disease, including diverticulitis.
According to a
If you drink alcohol, your doctor will likely encourage you to drink in moderation only. Although alcohol consumption might not cause diverticulitis, drinking too much can raise your risk of many other health problems.
If you have diverticula that aren’t infected or inflamed, it’s known as diverticulosis.
In some cases, diverticulosis can cause symptoms such as pain in the abdomen and bloating. When that happens, it’s known as symptomatic uncomplicated diverticular disease (SUDD).
Diverticula can also develop in your bladder. This happens when the lining of your bladder forms pouches, poking through weak spots in your bladder’s wall.
Sometimes bladder diverticula are present at birth. In other cases, they develop later in life. They can form when your bladder outlet is blocked, or your bladder isn’t working properly due to illness or injury.
If you have bladder diverticula that becomes inflamed, it’s known as bladder diverticulitis. To treat bladder diverticulitis, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. They might also recommend surgery to repair the diverticula.
It’s also possible for diverticulitis in your colon to affect your bladder. In severe cases, you might develop a fistula between your colon and bladder. This is known as a colovesical fistula. Find out what this condition involves.
Diverticula can potentially form in your esophagus, too. This
Esophageal diverticula are rare. When they do develop, it’s usually slowly and over many years. As they grow, they can cause symptoms or complications such as:
- trouble swallowing
- pain when swallowing
- halitosis, or bad breath
- regurgitation of food and saliva
- pulmonary aspiration: breathing regurgitated food or saliva into your lungs
- aspiration pneumonia: developing a lung infection after breathing in food or saliva
If the diverticula become inflamed, it’s known as esophageal diverticulitis.
To treat esophageal diverticulitis, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics and pain medications. To repair the diverticula, they might recommend surgery. Get more information about your treatment options.
Diverticulitis is relatively
If complications develop, they can be serious. If you have complicated diverticulitis, your doctor will likely advise you to get treatment in a hospital. You might need to undergo surgery to repair damage to your colon.
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.