Is Diverticulitis Serious?

What Is Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis causes symptoms and signs such as gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Diverticulitis causes symptoms and signs such as gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

Diverticulitis and diverticulosis are forms of diverticular disease, which occurs when diverticula, small pouches in the large intestinal (colonic) wall, are present. These pouches arise in the colon and push through weak spots in the colon's outer muscle layers. Inflammation of these diverticula are called diverticulitis.

What Are Signs and Symptoms of Diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis occurs when there is infection or inflammation of the diverticula.

Early symptoms and signs of diverticulitis include the following:

A doctor may notice the following signs and symptoms on physical examination:

What Causes Diverticulitis?

In Western countries, doctors believe the classic high-fat and low-fiber diet causes diverticulitis.

Increased pressure from constipation or increasing abdominal girth in obesity may also cause diverticulitis.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Diverticulitis?

Doctors diagnose diverticulitis based on a medical history and physical examination.

Medical professionals may also order any of the following laboratory tests to aid in diagnosis:

Doctors may order the following imaging tests:

  • Computed tomography (CT) scanning of the abdomen
  • Contrast enema, using water-soluble medium
  • Abdominal radiographic (X-ray) series

What Is the Treatment for Diverticulitis?

Treatment for diverticulitis depends on the severity, the presence of any complications, and other underlying medical conditions.

Treatment for mild diverticulitis includes the following:

In more severe cases, people may need hospitalization. If hospitalized, treatment may include the following:

  • Clear liquid diet; progress to a soft diet as tolerated
  • Intravenous (IV) or oral antibiotics
    • Beta-lactamase-inhibiting antibiotics such as piperacillin/tazobactam (Tazocin) and ticarcillin/clavulanic acid (Timentin)
    • Carbapenems such as ertapenem (Invanz)
  • Abscesses less than 3 cm, which typically resolve with antibiotics
  • Abscesses greater than 4 cm: Drain percutaneously
  • Pain management
    • Morphine is preferred, though it may affect bowel tone and sphincters.
    • Acetaminophen and antispasmodics such as dicyclomine are first-line medications used to manage pain and cramping in mild to moderate disease.
  • Elective surgical resection

What Are Complications of Diverticulitis?

Complications of diverticulitis include the following:

  • Abscess (most common complication)
  • Intestinal fistula
  • Perforation
  • Obstruction
  • Generalized peritonitis (inflammation of the tissue that lines the wall of the abdomen)
  • Sepsis (can be life-threatening)
  • Stricture of colon

What Is the Life Expectancy for Diverticulitis?

Most people with diverticulitis can recover completely following prompt treatment.

Immunocompromised patients (people with HIV, organ transplant recipients, those on long-term corticosteroids) have a greater chance of having complications and needing surgery, as well as a significantly higher illness and death rate due to sigmoid diverticulitis (when diverticula form in the wall of the sigmoid colon, which is the end portion of the colon, near the rectum).

How Do You Prevent Diverticulitis?

The most effective way to prevent diverticulitis is with proper diet and exercise. Diverticular disease can be due to a low-fiber diet so consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other high-fiber foods is the mainstay of prevention.

Ghoulam, Elie M. "Diverticulitis." Aug. 6, 2019. <>.