Diverticulitis has various symptoms that can mimic other conditions. With a thorough evaluation of your symptoms and testing, your gastroenterologist can reach a diagnosis and start a treatment plan for you.
Understanding Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Before you understand diverticulitis, you must first understand it occurs from a related condition, diverticulosis. Diverticulosis occurs when there are weak spots in the wall of the colon. These weak spots are called diverticula. When the weakened areas become infected or inflamed, sometimes due to trapped stool, the condition is called diverticulitis. A flare-up of diverticulitis occurs when symptoms return after a period of no symptoms.
Symptoms of Diverticulitis
Diverticulitis symptoms include pain or discomfort in the abdominal area, most commonly in the left lower quadrant. Constipation, diarrhea, fever and painful urination can occur. In severe flare-ups, nausea and vomiting are present. You should go to the ER if you experience symptoms of diverticulitis with a fever of 100.1F or more, worsening or severe abdominal pain, or if you are unable to tolerate fluids. Many of the symptoms associated with diverticulitis can mimic other conditions. Therefore, you will need medical tests for a definitive diagnosis.
Diverticulitis can be divided into simple and acute types, depending on the severity of symptoms.
Diagnosing Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Diverticulosis typically has no symptoms and is usually found during imaging tests to diagnose other gastrointestinal problems. Diverticulitis is diagnosed based on symptoms, laboratory tests, and an abdominal CT scan. A complete blood count (CBC) is a laboratory test used to check for an elevated white blood cell count, which can signal infection or inflammation. A urinalysis helps rule-out stones in the urinary tract. If you are a woman, a gynecological exam can rule-out ovarian or uterine growths, which can cause similar symptoms. An abdominal CT confirms a diagnosis of diverticulitis. Once a diagnosis is made, patients stay on a restricted diet varying from nothing at all by mouth to clear liquids along with antibiotics.
Risk Factors for Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Constipation and eating a highly-processed and low-fiber diet appear to increase the risk of developing diverticulosis. The risk of developing diverticulosis also increases as you age. Aside from constipation and having diverticulosis, there are no other known risk factors for developing diverticulitis.
Diverticulosis can be associated with large amounts of bleeding, with or without a bowel movement. Call for emergency assistance or visit the ER if you experience significant bleeding. Most episodes of bleeding resolve spontaneously but still require medical attention. A CT angiogram helps determine the site and cause of bleeding. A colonoscopy may be used to aid in diagnosis. You should always consult your doctor if you experience bleeding, with or without a bowel movement, since no amount of bleeding is normal.
Living with Diverticulitis
For those who have previously experienced a diverticulitis flare-up, one-third never have another attack, one-third may have milder attacks that do not progress to another full-blown attack, and one-third will progress to a more advanced form of diverticulitis. If you experience bleeding, you have a higher risk for subsequent bleeding episodes.
Previously, patients were mistakenly encouraged to stay away from nuts, seeds, and corn after resolution of a diverticulitis flare-up. There is no proof these foods contribute to flare-ups and this dietary change is no longer recommended. In fact, the recommendation remains a diet high in fiber once the acute attack has resolved.
Concerned your symptoms may be a diverticulitis flare-up? Contact us at Richmond Gastroenterology Associates and schedule an appointment.