6 Symptoms and Signs of Diverticulitis

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Diverticulitis is a condition that affects the colon. It can cause uncomfortable and painful gastrointestinal symptoms. While it is usually not serious, it’s important to know the signs of diverticulitis to avoid potential complications.

What is Diverticulitis?

In order to understand what diverticulitis is, you first have to know about diverticula. Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of digestive organs. They are most commonly found in the lower part of the large intestine, also known as the colon. If you have diverticula, you have a condition called diverticulosis. Diverticulosis is not the same as diverticulitis.

  • Diverticulosis: This is just the presence of these tiny pockets or bulges in the colon. IT is common, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimates that about 35% of adults under 50 have diverticulosis and 58% of adults over 50 have it.  Diverticulosis doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms or need to be treated. But diverticulosis can lead to diverticulitis. 
  • Diverticulitis: This is the inflammation and infection in one or more diverticula. The inflammation and swelling of the pockets cause symptoms and the condition is potentially serious.

Signs of Diverticulitis

Diverticulitis can cause a number of symptoms, including gastrointestinal distress. The signs of diverticulitis include:

1. Pain and Tenderness: The inflammation in the diverticula can cause pain and tenderness in the lower left side of the abdomen. The pain is often severe and appears suddenly. However, it can also be mild and get worse over a period of several days. The intensity of the pain may fluctuate over time.

2. Nausea and/or Vomiting: Diverticulitis may cause nausea. Sometimes nausea is accompanied by vomiting, but this is not always the case.

3. Fever: Fever can be a sign of diverticulitis because it indicates that an infection is present.

4. Chills: Chills sometimes accompany a fever caused by diverticulitis.

5. Abdominal Cramping: Many people suffering from diverticulitis complain of a cramping feeling in their lower abdomen. This can be separate from the pain and nausea described above, but it can occur along with those symptoms. 

6. Changes in Bowel Movements: Diverticulitis may cause changes in bowel movements. Typically, the infection causes constipation. In some cases, it may cause diarrhea, but this is far less common than constipation.

7. Rectal Bleeding: One of the signs of diverticulitis that indicates that you need to seek medical attention is rectal bleeding. Diverticular bleeding is usually noticeable due to large amounts of red or maroon-colored blood in your stool.

Diagnosis

If you are experiencing the symptoms or signs of diverticulitis, then a doctor should evaluate you to make a diagnosis. The first step in diagnosing this condition is a physical exam and medical history. The doctor will ask questions about your current symptoms and do an exam to check for abdominal pain and tenderness.

Other tests may be performed to diagnose diverticulitis. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests: A blood test can check for signs of infection, like a high white blood cell count.
  • Stool test: Stool samples can be tested to see if certain abnormal bacteria or parasites that could cause symptoms are present.
  • Digital exam: A digital rectal exam in which the physician gently inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum can check for problems in the anus and rectum.
  • Colonoscopy: A thin, flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end called a colonoscope is inserted through the rectum and into the colon. The doctor examines the full length of the colon for signs of diverticulitis, abnormal growths, ulcers, or bleeding.
  • Sigmoidoscopy: A flexible sigmoidoscopy is a test in which a gastroenterologist examines the sigmoid colon for signs of diverticulitis or other conditions. This is an endoscopic procedure that is quick and has a low risk of complications. 

Treatment & Prevention

Most cases of uncomplicated diverticulitis can be treated with rest and by adopting a liquid diet for several days so the bowel can heal. Sometimes antibiotics can help with infection, but may not be needed for mild cases. More serious cases with complications may require IV antibiotics, a drainage tube, or surgery.

You can prevent diverticulitis and lower the risk of recurring episodes by taking some simple steps. Staying hydrated, eating plenty of fiber, and exercising can all help keep your bowels functioning normally. If you smoke, quitting can reduce your risk of diverticulitis.

If you have symptoms or signs of diverticulitis, you should seek medical attention from a GI specialist for evaluation and treatment. The team at Birmingham Gastroenterology has decades of experience treating diseases and disorders in all parts of the digestive system. This includes diagnosing and helping patients manage diverticulitis.

To make an appointment to discuss your symptoms and treatment options, call us at (205) 271-8000. 

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