Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis of Diverticulitis

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Image courtesy of dream designs at

Diverticulitis is a serious disease which is both painful and dangerous. Once diverticula, which are small sacs, grow on colon walls, they will not heal. Inflammation and rupture of these sacs may occur and cause serious and life threatening infections. Preventative measure can be taken to ensure digestive health and the prevention of diverticulitis. Doctors are unsure about what causes diverticulitis. It is believed that a low fiber diet may pay a role. Without fiber to add bulk to the stool, the colon has to work harder than normal to push the stool forward. The pressure from this action may cause pouches to form in weak areas along the colon.


Most people who suffer from diverticulosis do not have any discomfort or symptoms, however, symptoms may include mild cramps, bloating, and constipation. Other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and ulcers cause similar problems. These symptoms are not indicative of diverticulosis. The differential diagnosis of diverticulosis includes colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. It also includes a number of urological and gynecological processes. Bleeding from the rectum is also common. Patients are commonly studied with a CT scan, but also barium enema and colonoscopy tests.


A patient with diverticulosis may have few, if any, symptoms. When a diverticulum becomes infected and ruptures, the condition is called diverticulitis. A patient suffering from diverticulitis experiences abdominal pain and tenderness, often accompanied by fever. Bleeding which originates from a diverticulum is called diverticulitis bleeding. Diverticular disease is common in the Western areas of the world, but is extremely rare in areas such as Asia and Africa. Diverticular disease increases with age and is uncommon before the age of forty. Most patients with diverticulitis develop bleeding, infection, constipation, abdominal cramps, and occasionally, colon obstruction.


More serious complications include diverticulitis, abscess in the pelvis, colon obstruction, and bacterial peritonitis, plus bleeding in the colon. A diverticulum can become infected with bacteria and ruptures, causing diverticulitis. Fever, tenderness, and pain of the lower left abdomen are common symptoms. Constipation or diarrhea may also occur. A collection of pus can develop around the inflamed diverticulum, which leads to the formation of an abscess, usually in the pelvis. On rare occasions, the inflamed diverticula can erode into the urinary bladder, which causes a bladder infection and passing of gas during urination.


Diverticulitis occurs when bacteria get trapped in the pouches. This leads to infection or inflammation. No screening is available at this time for diverticulitis. Starting at age 40, a procedure called a flexible sigmoidoscopy may be recommended every 3 to 5 years or a colonoscopy every 10 years as a screening exam for cancers of the colon and rectum. Both flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy involve using a flexible tube with a lighted viewing instrument to see inside the large intestine. These exams are often able to reveal diverticula if they are present. Treatment after recovery from an attack of diverticulitis is aimed at preventing another attack. It is vital to visit with a physician as soon as possible to plan a course of action.

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