Diverticulitis often strikes without warning, causing excruciating pain that prevents you from doing anything except seeking medical care. Dr. Nina Paonessa at Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery effectively treats most cases of diverticulitis with medication and dietary changes.
But if you want to cure the problem to prevent future attacks, you only have one choice, and that’s surgery. Learn about when you may need surgery to eliminate diverticulitis.
Understanding diverticulitis, diverticulosis, and diverticula
To better understand whether diverticulitis can be cured, we need to talk about the difference between diverticulitis, diverticulosis, and diverticula.
Diverticula are small pouches that bulge out from the colon (large intestine). They appear when the inner tissues push out through a weak spot in the colon wall, creating a balloon-like sac. Though diverticula can develop anywhere, they most often appear in your lower left colon.
If you have diverticula, you’re diagnosed with a condition called diverticulosis. Many people have diverticulosis and never know it because the sacs alone don’t cause problems.
The sacs turn into a medical problem when they become infected and inflamed. That’s when you have diverticulitis.
Once diverticulitis develops, symptoms appear in the form of extreme pain and tenderness in the lower left side of your abdomen. You may also have nausea, vomiting, a fever, diarrhea, or constipation.
Dealing with diverticulosis
Once the sacs develop, they don’t heal on their own, and they don’t go away. We can cure diverticulosis by performing surgery to remove the sacs. But if you don’t have symptoms and an infection doesn’t develop, there’s no reason to treat the condition at all, much less undergo surgery.
Complicating the problem with diverticulitis
Diverticulitis presents a different challenge. You have more to worry about than the severe pain. Ongoing inflammation damages the surrounding tissues. The damage and infection work together to cause serious complications.
Without treatment, diverticulitis can lead to an abscess in and around the sac. The inflammation may also narrow the colon or even cause a blocked colon. In the worst case, the colon wall is so damaged it tears, allowing the infection to spread into your abdomen.
You need quick treatment for diverticulitis, not only to get relief from the pain, but also to eliminate the infection before complications arise.
We usually treat mild to moderate diverticulitis with pain-relieving medications and antibiotics to get rid of the infection. You also follow a liquid diet for a few days so your colon has time to heal.
If you have severe symptoms or complications, you may need to spend a day or two in the hospital so we can give you intravenous antibiotics.
Conventional treatment heals the infection, reduces inflammation, and eliminates your pain. While your diverticulitis is effectively treated, it’s not technically cured because the sacs remain.
As long as you still have diverticula, they can get infected again. However, following a high-fiber diet often prevents future diverticulitis attacks.
The only way to cure diverticulitis is with surgery. You may need surgery for diverticulitis when you have:
- Complications (obstruction, punctured colon wall, severe abscess)
- Repeated episodes of uncomplicated diverticulitis
- A weakened immune system
- Diverticular bleeding (bleeding from the rectum)
- Diverticulitis that doesn’t respond to medication
Surgery to treat (cure) diverticulitis is called a bowel resection or colectomy. During the procedure, we remove the diseased segments — the sacs and any damaged or inflamed tissues — and reconnect the two healthy ends of the colon.
If you have severe inflammation and extensive damage, we may not be able to reconnect the colon. When that happens, we perform a colostomy, draining the colon through an opening in your abdomen.
Don’t wait to get treatment for pain in your lower left abdomen. Call Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery to schedule an appointment right away. We can see you at one of our offices in Brielle and Manahawkin, New Jersey.