Diverticulitis, and diverticular disease, occur when one or more pockets of diverticula in your bowel wall becomes infected or inflamed.
What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is a condition of the large ingestine (bowel) caused by diverticula. These are small pouches or bulges that can develop in the lining of the intestine as you get older. Most people have little or no symptoms from these diverticula.
If symptoms do develop, you may have either diverticular disease or diverticulitis.
What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?
Symptoms of diverticulitis can come on quite quickly and may include:
- Pain and tenderness in your stomach (abdomen)
- Diarrhoea and/or constipation
- Fever and chills
- Rectal bleeding
How is diverticulitis diagnosed?
Because the symptoms of diverticulitis are similar to many other conditions, diagnosis can be difficult. In the first instance a blood test may be used to rule out other conditions. Your consultant may then recommend:
What causes diverticulitis?
The exact causes of diverticulitis are not known but experts believe there are various risk factors.
Low-fibre vs high-fibre diets
Diverticulitis may be caused by a low-fibre diet. This causes pressure in the digestive tract and straining during bowel movements which can inflame the diverticula.
On the other hand, recent research suggests that a high-fibre diet may also be contributing factor where there is an increase in bowel movements.
Experts believe that a variety of genetic factors may contribute to the development of diverticulitis.
Diverticulitis may develop when bacteria or a stool get caught in a pouch in your colon. A decrease in healthy bacteria and an increase in disease-causing bacteria in your colon may also lead to diverticulitis.
How is diverticulitis treated?
Treating diverticulitis at home
If your symptoms are mild your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and over the counter pain medication such as paracetamol. They may also recommend a temporary change in your diet so that food is more easily digested, for example, adopting a liquid diet for a short period.
More severe cases of diverticulitis require support from a doctor who specialises in disorders of the digestive system (gastroenterologist).
They may recommend injections of antibiotics and intravenous fluids to keep you hydrated.
In rare cases chronic (long term) diverticulitis may require surgery to remove the affected part of your intestine.
Questions your doctor may ask you
If your symptoms are affecting your quality of life, go and have a chat with your GP or a medical professional.
If your doctor suspects you have diverticulitis, they may ask you:
- When did you first begin experiencing symptoms, and how severe have they been?
- Do you have symptoms all the time or every now and then?
- Does anything seems to improve or worsen your symptoms?
- Have you had a fever?
- Are you taking any medication or painkiller to relieve your symptoms?
- Have you ever had a screening test for colon cancer?