What is Acute Diverticulitis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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Acute diverticulitis is inflammation in the intestine, which occurs when certain pouches in the intestine called diverticula become inflamed and infected as a result of them accumulating waste. When people have diverticula, they have a condition called diverticulosis. If a pouch becomes swollen and pushes outward into the colon, this is acute diverticulitis and it requires physician assessment and care.

Symptoms of acute diverticulitis are not hard to ignore. Pain is located in the lower left part of the abdomen. Discomfort is fairly severe and doesn’t tend to recede much with positional changes. Another hallmark of this condition is that activity of the bowels may be altered. Some people suffer severe diarrhea, and others may have vomiting; constipation is also possible. Occasionally people might also have fever.

Symptoms suggestive of acute diverticulitis necessitate medical care because the condition won’t go away if ignored, due to the presence of infection. Doctors are likely to order a computed tomography scan (CT scan), as this is generally considered the best way to visualize presence of the illness. When it is confirmed, treatment may take several directions.


The usual treatment for acute diverticulitis includes ceasing any but consumption of liquids for a few days, while beginning a course of antibiotics to address inflammation and infection. Some of the most popular antibiotic treatments are drugs like Flagyl® which may need to be taken for two to three weeks or more. Once food is resumed, people are instructed to eat a high fiber diet, have plenty of liquids, and possibly to supplement diet with a fiber supplement. Pain control is typically limited to over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, because using opioids like codeine can cause constipation.

One danger of leaving acute diverticulitis untreated is that it can cause massive infection of the body. Without addressing infection, swelling can become so significant that it causes intestinal rupture, which distributes infectious agents into the abdominal cavity. This is life threatening. Without early treatment, there is greater likelihood of needing much more aggressive measures to alleviate this condition.

Should acute diverticulitis be extremely severe or cause rupture, doctors may need to treat with stronger antibiotics and they might have to do surgery in order to resolve the problem. Surgery often means removing the diseased bowel portion in what is called a resection. In rare cases, damage could be so severe that removal of the colon is necessary, which may make life-altering changes in the way people dispose of fecal waste.

People may have many diverticulitis attacks that are better treated with bowel resection or they may only have the occasional attack of acute diverticulitis. To prevent more of these it does help to maintain a high fiber diet, drink plenty of water, and even regular exercise can assist. It’s been demonstrated that diverticulosis may be more common in those carrying extra weight. Losing weight could be useful in reducing risk, but people should not lose weight by pursuing a low fiber/high protein diet.


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Can you get over diverticulitis?

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