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What is diverticulitis?
When you strain to have a bowel movement, the exertion may create tiny pockets called diverticula in the weak spots of the wall of your colon (large intestine). You may have just one diverticulum or multiple diverticula. This is a condition called diverticulosis, which generally produces no symptoms or concerns.
Problems can arise, however, if bits of stool (bowel movement) and bacteria get trapped in these pockets, causing inflammation and swelling—a condition known as diverticulitis. If it goes undetected for too long or is left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to more serious problems, including:
- Abscess – Caused by constant inflammation in the diverticula; an infection that affects the surrounding tissue.
- Fistula – Caused by infection, a tiny tunnel that forms between two organs that shouldn’t be connected, such as the colon and the bladder.
- Intestinal obstruction – Caused by inflammation and scarring from past inflammation; stool is not able to pass through at all or is partially blocked.
- Perforation – Caused by a tear in the diverticula that allows the contents of the colon to leak into other parts of the body.
- Peritonitis – Caused by perforations in one or more diverticula; a rare, but life-threatening condition.
Most people with diverticulitis experience abdominal cramping and tenderness, particularly in the lower left abdomen. Other possible symptoms include:
These symptoms are associated with many other conditions so if you have any of these it doesn’t mean you have diverticulitis. However, if your symptoms are worrisome and not going away or their own, you should see a medical professional to determine the cause. To identify diverticulitis, your doctor may order tests such as:
- Blood test
- Stool test
- X-ray or CT scan (to identify abscessed areas in the colon)
If you are diagnosed with diverticulitis, your treatment will depend on the results of your tests and whether you have developed additional complications.
Eating plenty of fiber from vegetables and whole grains helps us have healthy bowel movements, a starting point for treatment of diverticulitis. Your treatment may also include medication, or in some cases, surgery.
At Main Line Health, our gastroenterologists and digestive health specialists use a range of advanced diagnostic tools and breakthrough therapies to treat digestive diseases, such as diverticulitis.
Meet Main Line Health’s dietitians to learn how you can eat well for life and potentially prevent adverse health conditions through changes in your diet.