Antibiotics are the primary treatment for diverticulitis, but supportive therapies at home may help as well. Supportive therapies for diverticulitis include things such as specialized diets and pain-relieving treatments.
Diverticulitis is a digestive condition that occurs when pouches in your large intestine, called diverticula, become inflamed or infected. This condition can be painful and can result in symptoms such as nausea and rectal bleeding.
Diverticulitis is often treated with antibiotics. Supportive therapy — steps you can take at home — may help to relieve pain and lower inflammation. Supportive therapy includes self-care measures such as temporary specialized diets, heat therapy for pain relief, and resting.
There are many ways you can help treat diverticulitis at home. Often, these supportive therapies are done alongside antibiotic treatments. A doctor might recommend that you do these therapies for just a few days, during the entire course of your antibiotic treatment, or as a long-term lifestyle change.
Supportive therapies for diverticulitis include:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: A doctor might prescribe OTC pain relievers to manage your symptoms.
- Liquid diet: A liquid diet can help ease symptoms of diverticulitis. Typically, it consists of beverages such as water, coffee, tea, juices, sports drinks, and soft drinks, along with broths, popsicles, and gelatin. In most cases, you’ll only be asked to follow a liquid for a few days.
- Low fiber diet: Low fiber diets can help lower inflammation. A low fiber diet is made up of skinless and seedless fruits and vegetables, eggs, dairy products, ground meat, white bread, pasta, and rice. After about 4 days of this diet, you’ll often be able to slowly start adding high fiber foods.
- Heating pads: Heating pads can be a great way to treat active diverticulitis pain.
It’s possible for diverticulitis to go away on its own without treatment. Some people never notice any symptoms or have symptoms mild enough to be confused with a passing stomach bug.
When diverticulitis does need to be treated, antibiotics are most common. Normally, a doctor will advise supportive therapy alongside antibiotics until your symptoms improve.
If your diverticulitis symptoms are severe or if you’ve had repeated episodes, you might need more intensive treatment. This often means a hospital admission so that you can receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
Surgery for diverticulitis involves removing part of your colon. Temporary colostomy, a surgery that creates an opening in your stomach and attaches your colon to it so that waste can empty into a removable collection bag, may be necessary.
The exact surgical treatment for diverticulitis depends on the severity of symptoms and the severity of damage to your colon.
Many people with mild diverticulitis may not have any symptoms. Often, these people don’t know they have diverticula (the little pockets that can cause diverticulitis) until it’s spotted during routine medical testing or testing for another condition.
When symptoms of diverticulitis do occur, they may include:
It’s a good idea to make sure you understand your diagnosis and treatment before you leave your medical appointment. If you get a diagnosis of diverticulitis, you can make sure you have all the information you need by asking questions such as:
- How long will I need to take this antibiotic?
- How long do I need to follow a liquid diet?
- How long do I need to follow a low fiber diet?
- Am I at risk of repeated episodes of diverticulitis?
- Will I need surgery?
The first step to a diverticulitis diagnosis is a medical exam. If you’re having symptoms, a doctor will ask you questions about the severity and about how long they’ve been occurring. They’ll also have questions about your medical history. If they suspect diverticulitis, they might order tests, including:
- Stool sample: A stool sample is used to check for blood, bacteria, and parasites.
- Blood test: A blood test, such as a complete blood count, can look for signs of infection.
- CT Scan: A CT scan is an imaging test can that shows inflamed diverticulitis pouches in your intestine.
- Barium enema: During a barium enema, a liquid that makes it easier to see the insides of your colon is injected through your anus. An X-ray is then taken.
- Sigmoidoscopy: This test uses a specialized tool called an endoscope to capture images of your sigmoid colon. An endoscope is a thin tube with a tiny video camera on the end that’s inserted through the anus.
- Colonoscopy: A colonoscopy is similar to sigmoidoscopy. During a colonoscopy, the endoscopy tool is also able to take tissue samples for biopsy.
- Angiography: During angiography, a dye is injected into the arteries that supply blood to your colon. This allows doctors to find the source of rectal bleeding.
Most people recover from diverticulitis after about 10 days of antibiotics and supportive therapy. Severe complications are possible but rare. If your doctor believes you’re at risk of severe complications, they’ll likely recommend hospital admission for IV antibiotics instead of home antibiotics and supportive therapy.
You can learn more about diverticulitis supportive therapy by reading the answers to some common questions.
How can I prevent diverticulitis?
One of the best ways to prevent diverticulitis is to avoid constipation. Some of the best ways to avoid constipation include:
What causes diverticulitis?
The exact cause of diverticulitis is unknown. It’s believed that it might be caused by a buildup of waste in the colon.
When waste builds up in your colon, it puts a strain on the colon walls and causes pressure. This pressure results in the pockets, or diverticula, forming in weak spots along the colon.
Who is most at risk for diverticulitis?
There are several known risk factors for diverticulitis. This includes:
- having overweight or obesity
- not being physically active
- eating a high fat diet
- eating a diet high in red meat
- eating a low fiber diet
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, or steroids
- being older than 40 years of age
You can take steps at home to help treat diverticulitis. Supportive therapy is often used alongside prescription antibiotics to relieve symptoms and help your colon recover. Supportive therapy varies depending on your symptoms but might include pain-relieving medications, a liquid diet, a low fiber diet, and heating pads.
Once you’ve recovered, a doctor might recommend lifestyle changes such as adding more fiber to your diet and increasing physical activity. In many cases, antibiotics and supportive therapy are enough to treat diverticulitis. When they’re not, additional treatments, including surgery, might be considered.