What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is a condition affecting the large intestine, or bowel. It is closely related to another condition affecting the bowel, called diverticular disease. Diverticulitis is more likely to occur in those who do not get enough fibre through their diet.  

What causes diverticulitis?

As we get older, small pockets or bulges called diverticula may develop in the lining of the intestine. These do not often cause symptoms and can go entirely unnoticed, but when they do cause symptoms, this is referred to as diverticular disease. Once symptoms become more severe, and the diverticula become infected, or inflamed, this is referred to as diverticulitis.

What are the symptoms of diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis symptoms include:

  • Severe, constant tummy pain
  • Feeling sick/vomiting
  • Fatigue (feeling tired)
  • Blood in your stool
  • Rectal bleeding
  • A high temperature (over 38 degrees Celsius)

If you experience symptoms of diverticulitis, without any previous diagnosis of diverticular disease, you should contact your GP as soon as possible. If you have a previous diagnosis of diverticular disease the symptoms can be managed and treated from home. However, if you notice bleeding, or are experiencing severe pain, it is best to seek medical attention.

How is diverticulitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will take your medical history and make an assessment of your symptoms. This is because they will want to rule out other conditions which can display similar symptoms, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), or bowel cancer.

The doctor may also take blood tests and refer you for a colonoscopy or CT scan.

What is the treatment for diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is most commonly treated at home using medication to relieve symptoms of pain, and antibiotics. In more severe cases, diverticulitis can be treated at the hospital so the doctor can monitor your progress and symptoms. Treatment in hospital may involve antibiotics administered through injections, and an intravenous drip to provide hydration and nourishment.

If you have already been diagnosed with diverticular disease, a high-fibre diet may help to ease any symptoms you experience with the condition. The ideal amount of fibre for an adult is 30g per day, and your doctor will discuss targets and ways to include fibre in your diet.

In more extreme cases, diverticulitis can be treated with surgery. This type of treatment is rare, and it involves removing the affected section of intestine. However, before any type of surgery, your surgeon will discuss the benefits and risks implied.

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