The excruciating pain of diverticulitis will send you to a doctor or the emergency room, but there’s another reason to seek help. Even if it’s your first diverticulitis attack, you’re at risk of serious complications.
Dr. Nina Paonessa at Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery provides personalized care. She carefully considers the severity of your diverticulitis and your general health. Then she chooses treatment based on the current guidelines.
Though diverticulitis has been around for decades, ongoing studies still provide new information. As we learn more about the nuances of the disease, we refine your treatment to provide the best care for your specific situation.
Diverticulosis and diverticulitis are related conditions that develop in your colon (large intestine). The colon wall consists of several layers of tissues, including a middle layer made up of muscle.
When the muscular layer develops a weak spot, the inner layer can push through that area, creating a bulge or sac that balloons out from the intestinal wall. That sets the stage for diverticulosis and diverticulitis.
The balloon-like sacs are called diverticula. If you have diverticula, then you have a condition called diverticulosis. Though diverticulosis is quite common in older adults, it’s increasingly diagnosed in young adults.
You can have diverticulosis for decades without ever having symptoms or health problems. However, blood vessels in the sacs can break open and bleed. And if you have diverticulosis, you can end up with diverticulitis.
You have diverticulitis when the sac becomes inflamed. The inflammation may or may not be accompanied by an infection. Once diverticulitis develops, you need medical care.
Diverticulitis has one hallmark symptom: severe pain. Since the pouches most often develop in the sigmoid colon, the last part of your colon before the rectum, you feel the pain on the lower left side of your abdomen.
You may have such extreme tenderness that gently touching your lower left side causes excruciating pain. Beyond pain, people with diverticulitis may have constipation, diarrhea, a fever, nausea, and vomiting.
In most cases, we can ease your pain and heal the diverticulitis with a combination of:
We selectively prescribe antibiotics based on your symptoms and health. Chances are you will need antibiotics if you’re a high-risk patient, have signs of an infection, or you have a suppressed immune system.
Though an infection needs treatment with antibiotics, you can be in extreme pain and only have inflammation without the infection. In that case, you may not need antibiotics.
Placing a heating pad on your abdomen reduces cramping and pain. You can also take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen are not a good idea because they increase your risk of bleeding.
Lowering the stress on your colon gives your diverticulitis time to heal. For this reason, we often recommend following a liquid or soft diet. Reducing the amount of fiber and waste traveling through the colon helps to limit muscle contractions and lowers the risk of irritating the inflamed area.
When diverticulitis requires surgery
You may need surgery to treat diverticulitis when antibiotics don’t work, the infection spreads into your abdomen, or you develop one of the following complications:
- Abscess (collection of pus around the sac)
- Perforation (tear in the colon wall caused by inflammation)
- Stricture (narrowing of the colon)
- Obstruction (blocked colon)
- Fistula (abscess extends into an adjacent organ)
If you have an abscess, we may be able to drain it. During the procedure, called percutaneous abscess drainage, we use real-time imaging to guide a needle into the abscess, then we pull the infected fluids up into the needle.
When diverticulitis requires surgery, we perform a colectomy, which is also called a bowel resection. After removing the damaged portion of your colon, we reconnect the two healthy segments. This restores normal function and allows you to have bowel movements.
Whether you need help for diverticulitis or you would like to learn more about preventing the problem, call Paonessa Colon & Rectal Surgery at one of our offices in Brielle and Manahawkin, New Jersey.