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What is diverticulitis?

Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Diverticulitis is the inflammation or infection of little sacs in the digestive tract called diverticula. Diverticula can develop throughout the digestive system; however, diverticulitis usually affects the colon in patients over 40 years old. Patients may experience intense abdominal pain, nausea, and difficulties with bowel movements. Diverticulitis ranges in severity from very mild cases that can be treated by rest, medication, and changes to the patient's diet, to very severe cases that require surgery.

Diverticulitis is a condition where pockets form in the wall of the colon and become infected.

Dr. Gary W. Falk, MD
Gastroenterologist

Diverticulitis occurs when diverticula—small, bulging pouches in the digestive tract that are common in adults over age 40—become infected or inflamed. Mild diverticulitis can be treated with diet changes, rest and antibiotics. More severe cases may require hospitalization with intravenous antibiotics or surgery to either remove the diseased part of the colon or to drain the abscess formed by the infection.

Diverticulitis is a potential complication of diverticulosis and refers to inflammation or infection of one of the colon pockets. This occurs when a small hole develops in a pocket, releasing a small amount of infection into the surrounding tissues.

The cause of this is not known. Patients with diverticulitis are usually sick and have serious abdominal pain and fever. Mild cases can usually be treated with bowel rest and antibiotics. Severe cases can cause abscesses to develop in the abdomen, which often need to be drained. Very sick patients may even require urgent surgery.

Diverticular disease affects the colon-part of the large intestine that removes waste from your body. Diverticular disease is made up of two conditions, diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Diverticulosis occurs when pouches, called diverticula, form in the colon. These pouches bulge out like weak spots in a tire. Diverticulitis occurs if these pouches become inflamed.

This information is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Diverticulitis is an infection in the large intestine. When the large intestine does its work (squeezing bowel movements through the body and out), sometimes the lining is pushed out into little pouches, creating a condition called diverticulosis. If fecal matter gets waylaid in those pouches, an infection can set in causing diverticulitis, a much more serious condition. Once an infection has begun in your intestine, there is a risk it can rupture into your abdominal cavity and cause a life-threatening infection.

Symptoms of diverticulosis
Diverticulosis may not progress to diverticulitis and cause a problem, and it often does not have symptoms. But these signs may indicate that you have diverticulosis and are therefore more prone to diverticulitis.

  • Difficulty achieving a complete bowel movement
  • Frequent bowel movements that are pellet-shaped
  • Cramping in the lower left quadrant of your abdomen (not severe)
  • Bloating

Symptoms of Diverticulitis
In addition to the symptoms of diverticulosis, signs of diverticulitis include:

  • Severe pain (the kind that makes you wonder if you should go to the emergency room)
  • Bloating that persists for weeks at a time rather than being intermittent
  • Constipation
  • Blood in your stool

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.