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Diverticulitis: What Is It and When Should I See a Doctor?

Diverticulitis: What Is It and When Should I See a Doctor?

Diverticula are pockets or bulges that form in the walls of the large intestine (colon). These pockets form due to increased pressure in the weak spots of the intestinal wall. The presence of diverticula is called diverticulosis. If the diverticula are torn or infected and start to get inflamed, the condition is called diverticulitis. Diverticulitis is a complication of diverticulosis and can be life-threatening.

What are Diverticula?

Diverticula commonly appear in people aged 40 and above. They do not usually cause problems. Diverticula can be thought of as elongated balloons with thin patches. When air fills the balloon, the air occupies more space in the thin patches first. Similarly, diverticulum form in the weak spots of the intestinal wall, filling up those spots with air or fluid.

The size of the diverticulum can be pea-sized and sometimes larger. People with diverticulosis experience mild or no symptoms. On the other hand, people with diverticulitis often experience more disconcerting symptoms.

Causes of Diverticulitis

Experts are unsure about the exact cause of diverticulosis and diverticulitis. However some believe that these occur due to lack of fiber in one’s diet. When stool becomes too dry, the colon needs to exert more to pass the stool through. The high pressure causes the weakest points of the intestinal wall to protrude and in some cases erode, which then causes diverticulitis. Diverticulitis may also occur if stool gets in the sacs, causing a bacterial infection

Another factor for the development of diverticulosis and diverticulitis is genes. Doctors have observed that people from the west develop diverticulosis in the last third of the colon, while people from Asia develop diverticulosis in the first section of the large intestine.

Diverticulitis is also linked to lack of exercise, obesity, medication and smoking.

Signs and Symptoms of Diverticulitis

Diverticulosis is often asymptomatic (no symptoms) but in some cases, people experience mild symptoms in the lower abdomen such as:

  • Abdominal Cramps. Patients experience miild pain due to a tight feeling in the muscles of the stomach.
  • Constipation. This refers to infrequent bowel movements and difficulty in passing the stool.
  • Bloating. Discomfort and feeling “stuffed”.
  • Flatulence. Abdominal discomfort due to build-up of gas

Diverticulitis manifests more symptoms such as:

  • Nausea. The patient might feel uneasy in the stomach. They might also vomit.
  • Rectal bleeding. The patient might see blood on their stool or on toilet paper used to clean after bowel movements.
  • Pain. In diverticulitis, pain is sharp and concentrated at a specific point in the lower abdomen. The pain is mild at first but can increase gradually or suddenly
  • Fever. The body temperature is above normal.

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During the physical exam, the doctor will ask the patient about dietary habits and family history. they might also check for tenderness in the lower abdomen. Other tests to check for diverticulitis include:

  • Blood tests. A high white blood cell count indicates that there is an infection.
  • CT scan. To check for inflamed diverticula in the lining of the colon.
  • Stool test. To check if the stool has blood or if there are any abnormal parasites and bacteria that may have caused an infection.
  • Lower GI radiography (barium enema). Doctors will flush a liquid containing barium into the patient’s rectum. The liquid makes problems in the colon more visible when x-rays are taken.
  • Colonoscopy. A tube with a camera is inserted in the rectum to check if the colon has any abnormalities such as ulcers, bleeding, and sores.


Patients must treat diverticulitis as a medical emergency. It requires admission to a hospital if symptoms are severe. Treatment includes:

  • IV fluids. Patients may take IV fluids. A person cannot eat or drink too much when the diverticula are still inflamed.
  • Antibiotics. Doctors prescribe antibiotics to reduce inflammation and prevent further inflammation in the diverticula.
  • Pain Relievers. Pain is very common in people with diverticulitis, and pain relievers alleviate the discomfort.
  • Surgery. Doctors might deem surgery necessary if pus coming from a tear in the colon is not successfully drained.

Prevention of Diverticulitis

To prevent diverticulosis from progressing into diverticulitis, a person can:

  • Drink plenty of water. Drinking water helps with the passage of stool by keeping the stool soft
  • Eat more fiber. A person can gradually increase fiber intake by making changes in their diet. They may eat more green vegetables, oats, and take supplements.
  • Take laxatives. Laxatives are substances that can loosen stool. Using them for a few days can aid with constipation. Eating natural laxatives such as prunes may also help.
  • Exercise. Daily exercise can help in the passage of food through the intestines.

Key Takeaway

Diverticulitis is a complication of diverticulosis wherein the sacs that grow in the lining of the colon become inflamed due to infection or tears. Diverticulosis is asymptomatic but diverticulitis can manifest severe symptoms such as pain, nausea and vomiting. Diverticulitis is treatable through antibiotics and in some cases, surgery.

Learn more about Other Digestive Health Issues here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis of the Colon, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10352-diverticular-disease

Accessed March 19, 2021


Diverticulosis and diverticulitis, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/diverticulosis-and-diverticulitis#symptoms-of-diverticulosis

Accessed March 19, 2021


Diverticular Disease Expanded Information


Accessed March 19, 2021




Accessed March 19, 2021


Symptoms & Causes of Diverticular Disease


Accessed March 19, 2021


Diverticular disease of the colon


Accessed March 19, 2021




Accessed March 19, 2021




Accessed March 19, 2021




Accessed May 5, 2021

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Written by Hazel Caingcoy Updated May 05
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel