What is diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is an inflammation of a diverticulum and/or diverticula (an abnormal pouch or sacs formed at a weak point in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract). Inflammation of a diverticulum causes pain and disturbance of bowel function. Signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include the following:
- left lower abdominal pain (70%)
- gas (flatulence)
- change in bowel habits
More severe symptoms include fever, abdominal tenderness, swollen abdomen, and fistula formation.
Is diverticulitis contagious?
Causes of diverticulitis are either infectious (bacteria causing inflammation) and/or noninfectious (foods or seeds causing erosion and inflammation when trapped inside a diverticulum). However, diverticulitis is not contagious.
For diverticulitis to occur, an individual must have diverticula develop in their gastrointestinal tracts. There is no evidence that diverticula development is contagious. Medical treatments, for example, metronidazole (Flagyl), ciprofloxacin (Cipro, Cipro XR, Proquin XR), amoxicillin and clavulanic acid (Augmentin), and many others may cure some episodes of diverticulitis, but the diverticula can become re-infected and/or irritated with agents that cause inflammation. Unfortunately, diverticulitis can reoccur. Once the diverticula are formed they become life-long structures unless removed by surgery.
During an attack of diverticulitis, patients are instructed to only eat a clear liquid diet (broth, Jell-O, clear fluids without any pulp). To help prevent further problems, it is advised to eat a high-fiber diet or a vegetarian diet as they are associated with lowering the risk of recurrent disease. Meals should include whole-grain breads, pastas, fresh fruit and vegetables. There is some controversy about which foods to avoid - popcorn, corn, foods with seeds in them and nuts have been recommended to avoid, but there is inadequate data to support this recommendation.
How will I know if I have diverticulitis?
The preliminary diagnosis is usually made by the person's history of symptoms and the physical exam. A CT scan is considered one of the best methods to confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis. Often blood tests are performed to help diagnose complications of the disease.
How will I know if I am cured of diverticulitis?
Diverticulitis is cured (or brought into remission) when the symptoms described above resolve. This occurs after the causative factors of the inflammation are removed, so the pain of diverticulitis may last hours or days. Consequently, it is important to initiate antibiotic treatments early. Symptoms generally begin to remit in about 2 to 4 days.
However, other than infection from bacteria, there is another potential causative factor for the inflammation (food or seed blockage and/or irritation of the tissue in the diverticula). In this situation, remission of symptoms depends upon successful resolution of the inflammation. Surgery can also be required with severe infectious diverticulitis. Approximately 15% to 25% of patients that have their first episode of diverticulitis will need surgery to treat the disease.
When should I seek emergency medical care for diverticulitis?
- If a person develops symptoms of diverticulitis they should immediately seek medical care.
- Any person that develops severe abdominal pain with tenderness should go immediately to the nearest emergency center for evaluation.
- Medical care should be sought if a person develops blood in the stools or fever with abdominal pain that does not go away.
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Shahedi, K, MD. "Diverticulitis." Medscape. Updated Aug 15, 2017.
"Diverticular Disease and Diet." USFC Medical Center.