Diverticulitis is a digestive disease caused by inflammation or infection of pouches, called diverticula, that sometimes form in the large intestine. The disease can be mild, or can cause life-threatening symptoms requiring emergency surgery.
Diverticulitis commonly strikes persons over the age of fifty but could occur at any age.
Commonly, the diverticulitis patient will experience abdominal pain, perhaps with cramping and diarrhea or constipation. There is often nausea and tenderness. There may be sharp pain and vomiting.
The physician will take a complete medical history with reported current symptoms and perform a physical examination. Swelling and tenderness will usually be palpated during the examination, and further tests will be ordered.
Medical testing for diverticulitis includes a blood test for an elevated white cell count, which is an indicator of infection. A CT (computerized tomography) scan is done in order to look for the characteristic pouches with inflammation that indicate diverticulitis. Sometimes other conditions such as irritable bowel can be very similar to diverticulitis symptoms.
Surgery is not normally the first course of treatment in cases of diverticulitis. If symptoms are mild, antibiotics are usually prescribed. A diet is given that is low in fiber content and consists mainly of liquids. Other foods may need to be avoided in order to rest the colon and cause it to work less.
If a patient does not seem to be responding to antibiotics, or if an attack is more acute, hospitalization may be required for delivery of stronger intravenous antibiotics.
If complications from diverticulitis are expected to occur, if a patient is experiencing many attacks, or if an attack seems life-threatening or the diverticula burst, surgery may be necessary. The surgery performed requires removal of the part of the colon which is diseased. This surgery could require a temporary colostomy which can then be closed again a few months later. However, most of the time the healthy part of the colon can merely be rejoined. Many times the operation can be done with minimal invasiveness through laproscopic surgery.
It is always important to seek medical care when anyone is experiencing symptoms of abdominal pain, recurrent nausea, cramping, constipation, vomiting or diarrhea. Although these can be symptoms of milder disease, they could also be signs of a life-threatening condition. Medical attention should be sought immediately. If diverticula burst, infection can set in rapidly.
Signet/Mosby Medical Encyclopedia
National Institute of Health