Diverticulitis: What Is It & What Are The Symptoms

Diverticulitis is an infection or inflammation of the intestines, and it can be immensely painful.

When left untreated, diverticulitis can lead to serious medical complications, which is why it pays to know the symptoms of diverticulitis. After all, the sooner someone receives an accurate diagnosis, the better their odds are of overcoming diverticulitis.

Patients who have diverticulitis may experience a wide range of abdominal and digestive tract symptoms that include…

13. Abdominal Cramping

An early symptom of diverticulitis is intermittent abdominal cramping, often on the lower left side of the abdomen. Patients may also notice the cramping peaks then subsides right before and after a bowel movement.

Because abdominal cramping may cause little discomfort, many patients do not realize that they may be experiencing an early symptom of diverticulitis. Additionally, patients may associate abdominal cramping with poor dietary choices or menstrual cramps.

When abdominal cramping occurs simultaneously with the following symptom, it might be time to call a doctor…

12. Increased Bloating and Gas

Gas and bloating are two common signs of diverticulitis, both of which can cause abdominal pressure. With diverticulitis, bloating can occur on a regular and frequent basis, regardless of dietary choices, hydration levels, or exercise frequency. If the gas pressure is located higher in the abdomen, though, it may be mistaken for a symptom of other digestive issues, such as a gall bladder attack.

While gas and bloating may seem like minimal symptoms, patients may begin to experience more severe symptoms if diverticulitis goes untreated…

11. Blood in the Stool

A serious diverticulitis symptom is bloody stool. It is important to note the presence of blood in the stool can be the result of other conditions, like hemorrhoids. Regardless of which condition bloody stool relates to, this is a symptom that warrants medical attention.

As the affected diverticula become more inflamed, the delicate intestinal tissue may bleed or even tear. When this happens, blood mixes with waste that is later excreted as fecal matter.

It’s particularly important to seek medical attention if someone notices symptoms of advanced diverticulitis, such as the following…

10. Fever

When diverticulitis advances, it may feel like someone turned up the heat. That’s because in advanced diverticulitis, the body may turn up its own temperature in an effort to fight a potential infection.

A fever that does not respond to over-the-counter medication may indicate the infection has moved to other parts of the body. This movement can be particularly critical if the patient has suffered any intestinal tearing of the infected diverticula; bacteria may then move into the bloodstream and infect nearby organs. Seek medical attention immediately if you cannot get rid of a fever.

Fever can also cause dehydration, which, in turn may worsen other symptoms, such as the following…

9. Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite are symptoms that may be confused with other medical conditions, such as viral infections of the digestive tract, food poisoning, or pregnancy. Nausea and vomiting that persist, however, should raise concern.

When diverticulitis causes consistent abdominal distress, it’s possible to experience queasiness and/or vomiting, and it’s also essential to seek medical attention right away.

If the pain won’t stop with this next symptom, it might be time to see a doctor…

8. Persistent Abdominal Pain

A key symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain that does not go away over time. This pain occurs due to increased sensitivity, inflammation, and potential bleeding and tearing of the intestinal system.

Pain from diverticulitis may be severe or mildly uncomfortable; in the latter case, patients may be tempted to ignore the pain. Ignoring the pain is not a good idea, though. Ignoring this problem means forgoing early treatment, which may lead to greater complications. Conversely, severe pain from diverticulitis may be great enough to temporarily disable the patient and make the tasks of daily living difficult or impossible.

When diverticulitis is the cause, lower abdominal pain is often accompanied by the following closely related symptom…

7. Abdominal Tenderness

Lower abdominal pain is a common diverticulitis symptom that occurs due to an intestinal blockage around the site of the inflamed or infected diverticula. The stress of the blockage causes internal swelling, thereby creating a tender-to-the-touch abdomen.

The next symptom is both painful and annoying…

6. Constipation

Because diverticulitis impacts the intestines, patients may experience constipation. Chronic constipation increases the risk of intestinal blockages, setting the patient up for serious complications if left untreated.

While some people experience constipation due to this condition, others have the opposite problem…

5. Diarrhea

While most diverticulitis patients experience constipation, some experience diarrhea. Changes in bowel movement frequency may be related to intestinal muscle spasms in and around the site of the inflammation or infection. These spasms happen as the body’s immune system attacks the infection.

Diarrhea isn’t just annoying; it can potentially lead to a dangerous state of dehydration. So, those who experience this symptom in combination with fever need to take their condition seriously.

Diverticulitis might also increase the following…

4. Increased Frequency of Urination with Pain

In some cases of diverticulitis, the patient may experience an increased need to urinate, pain with urinating, and difficulty emptying the bladder. All of these symptoms should result in a trip to the doctor’s office.

The next symptom is particularly hard to ignore…

3. Rectal Bleeding

Patients with diverticulitis may notice rectal bleeding, which may indicate a tear or rupture of the diverticula. Patients should seek immediate emergency medical treatment for this symptom and should report any other abdominal or digestive symptoms, so the doctor can properly diagnose the patient.

This symptom is easy to notice. Some people, however, might not notice any signs of infection at all…

2. Asymptomatic Patients

Most patients will experience one or more symptoms, causing them to seek medical treatment, but there are cases where patients are asymptomatic.

In these cases, patients may need to be evaluated based on risk factors, which include:

  • Age – Patients over the age of 40 are at greater risk, with the risk for diverticulitis increasing as patients continue to age.
  • Weight – Patients who are obese are at a greater risk for diverticulitis.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle – Patients who do not exercise or who spend most of their waking hours leading a sedentary lifestyle are at greater risk.
  • Smoking – Smoking may increase the risk of developing diverticulitis.
  • Diet – A diet that lacks fiber but is rich in fats and protein may increase the risk of diverticulitis.

So, what’s the takeaway?…

1. Final Thoughts

Many patients experience troubling, painful symptoms of diverticulitis that lead them to seek regular or emergency medical treatment. That said, for others, early diverticulitis symptoms may be mild and easily confused with other abdominal discomforts. Some patients may even be entirely asymptomatic. So, those who are high risk should see their primary physician to assess potential causes.

Diverticulitis is treatable when you catch it early.

Fortunately, antibiotics or surgery can successfully treat diverticulitis. Left untreated, though, it may result in serious health complications. Patients should therefore take potential symptoms of diverticulitis seriously and report their concerns to their physicians.

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