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What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is a condition in which small pockets along your intestine called diverticula become inflamed or infected. This is caused by hard bowel movement, food, or bacteria that get stuck in the pockets.

What are the signs and symptoms of diverticulitis?

  • Pain in the lower left side of your abdomen
  • Fever
  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • An urge to urinate or have a bowel movement more often than usual
  • Bloody bowel movements
  • Bloating and gas

How is diverticulitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine you. He will ask questions about your symptoms and health history. You may have any of the following:

  • Blood and urine tests: Your healthcare provider may need to take blood and urine samples to find out how well your digestive system works.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen. The pictures may show problems and abnormal changes in your intestine. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help your healthcare provider see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • Abdominal ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show diverticula in your intestine.
  • Barium enema: A barium enema is an x-ray of the colon. A tube is put into your anus, and a liquid called barium is put through the tube. Barium is used so that caregivers can see your colon better on the x-ray film.
  • Endoscopy: This test is done to see the inside of your digestive tract. A scope (long bendable tube with a light on the end) is used to take pictures. This test may show problems with how your digestive tract is working. Samples may be taken from your digestive tract and sent to a lab for tests.

How is diverticulitis treated?

Avoid solid foods to rest your intestine. You will be given IV fluids or placed on a clear liquid diet. You may need to rest at home, or you may be admitted to the hospital. You may also need any of the following:

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to help treat an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.
  • Drainage: Your healthcare provider may insert a small tube through an incision in your abdomen to drain pus from infected diverticula. This is done to reduce inflammation or treat infection.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery if other treatments do not work. A healthcare provider will remove the infected or inflamed areas of your colon. If a large portion of your colon is removed, you may need a colostomy. A colostomy is a procedure that allows your bowel movements to collect in a bag outside your body. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about surgery and colostomy.

What are the risks of diverticulitis?

After treatment, diverticulitis may come back. You may have more infections in your intestines or urinary tract. Your intestines could stop working correctly or rupture (tear). Bowel movement or urine could begin to leak into your other organs. This can be life-threatening.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Eat low-fiber foods: You will need to follow a low-fiber diet until your symptoms are gone. Your healthcare provider will tell you when you can slowly add high-fiber foods back into your diet. Low-fiber foods include cream of wheat, white bread, white pasta, and white rice. They also include canned or well-cooked fruits and vegetables without skin or seeds.
  • Drink plenty of liquids each day: You may need to drink 2 to 3 liters (8 to 12 cups) of liquids every day. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise: Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise can help you have regular bowel movements. Try to exercise at least 30 minutes every day.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have pain when you urinate.
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not go away.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have bowel movement or foul-smelling discharge leaking from your vagina or in your urine.
  • You have severe diarrhea.
  • You urinate less than usual or not at all.
  • You are unable to have a bowel movement.
  • You have cramps or severe abdominal pain and a fever.
  • You have new or increased blood in your bowel movements.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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