(Acute Diverticulitis; Acute Colonic Diverticulitis)
by Debra Wood, RN
A pouch that forms in the wall of the large intestine is called a diverticulum. When this pouch becomes infected or swollen, it is called diverticulitis.
It is not clear why the pouches form. It may be due to a constant build up of pressure when food moves too slowly through the bowel. This pressure increases and pushes along the sidewalls of the bowel creating pouches. Digested food or stool can become trapped in one of the pouches. This leads to swelling and infection.
Risk Factors TOP
This condition is more common in people who are older than 50 years of age.
Factors that increase your chance of getting diverticulitis include:
Symptoms can come on suddenly. They vary depending on the degree of the infection.
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical and rectal exam will be done. Finding the disease early is important. The pouch can break, releasing stool into the abdomen. This is a medical emergency that requires surgery.
Your bodily fluids and waste products may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may need to be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
After the inflammation subsides, other tests may be performed to examine the colon, including:
The goals of treatment are to:
Antibiotics and other medications are given to fight the infection. Pain medications and drugs are given to decrease the abdominal pain.
You may also be given medication to help control vomiting.
For mild swelling, you can drink clear liquids for the first 2-3 days. For a more severe case, you will be admitted to the hospital, where fluids are given by IV. Antibiotics will also be given to you through IV.
Preventive Care TOP
Changes in your diet can help prevent future attacks.
Surgery to remove the section of the bowel with pouches may be advised if:
Surgery is also used to treat complications of diverticulitis, such as:
When surgery is done on an elective basis, the surgeon will remove the part of the bowel that is diseased and connect the normal parts of the bowel back together.
When surgery is done on an emergency basis, the diseased part of the bowel will be removed. The healthy parts of the bowel will not be connected right away. Your bowel will need time to rest and heal. The upper part of the bowel will be attached to the abdominal wall. A stoma will allow waste to pass from the intestine to a bag outside of your body. If possible, the healthy bowel will be reconnected after 6-12 weeks.
The following recommendations may help prevent diverticulitis by improving the movement of stool through the bowel and decreasing constipation:
American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Diverticular disease. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons website. Available at: https://www.fascrs.org/patients/disease-condition/diverticular-disease. Updated October 2012. Accessed September 23, 2014.
Diverticulitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113975/Diverticulitis. Updated December 21, 2015. Accessed September 29, 2016.
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
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Updated September 19, 2013. Accessed September 23, 2014.
2/9/2012 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113975/Diverticulitis: Hjern F, Wolk A, Håkansson N. Smoking and the risk of diverticular disease in women. Br J Surg. 2011;98(7):997-1002.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 9/23/2014
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