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What are diverticulitis symptoms?

Find out how to identify diverticulitis symptoms.

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of diverticulitis. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Abdominal pain is a common symptom of diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis is an inflammation of the diverticula, small abnormal pouches usually found in the large intestine. The underlying condition of diverticulitis is diverticulosis, which describes the presence of these abnormal pouches. Normally, people with diverticulosis don’t have any symptoms, but when an inflammation or infection is present, diverticulitis symptoms can vary from mild to severe. 

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse reports that about 50 percent of those over the age of 60 have diverticulosis, and 10 to 25 percent of those people will develop diverticulitis. Diverticulitis symptoms can be easily confused with symptoms of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, so take a close look at the symptoms below. If you have one or more of them, the best course of action is to consult your doctor.

Abdominal Pain

The clearest symptom of diverticulitis is abdominal pain. Generally, the pain is felt in the lower left abdomen, though it can be found anywhere in the abdominal region. The pain of a diverticulitis attack may come suddenly, or it may build up over days. Abdominal cramps associated with diverticulitis may be severe and can also be intermittent. The abdomen may also be tender to the touch.

Fever and Nausea

If an infection is present, symptoms may include fever, chills, nausea or vomiting. Weight loss may also occur. The severity of these symptoms depends on whether the infection involves a large or small area, and also on whether there are other complications.

Elevated White Blood Cell Count

Another symptom of diverticulitis is a high white blood cell count. If a doctor suspects that you have diverticulitis, he or she may use a blood test for partial confirmation.

Change in Bowel Patterns

People with diverticulitis may also notice that they feel constipated or have abdominal cramps or bloating. The constipation may result from a low-fiber diet, which is believed to be the major cause of diverticulitis. A lack of fiber causes hard stools, which in turn increases the pressure on the bowels as they strain to pass the stool. Bouts of constipation may alternate with bouts of diarrhea, and rectal bleeding may also occur in some cases. Frequent urination may also occur in people with diverticulitis.

Severity of Symptoms

More severe diverticulitis symptoms are usually caused by complications such as a tear or rupture of the diverticulum. If the diverticulum tears or ruptures, it can cause feces to spill from the colon into the abdominal cavity, which can lead to an abscess (infection) or peritonitis (an inflammation of the abdominal wall). These are serious conditions that require immediate medical treatment -- possibly even surgery to remove the diseased portion of the colon. If left untreated, these conditions can be life-threatening.

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