Diverticulitis is a condition characterized by inflammation or tearing of abnormal, marble-sized pockets in the digestive tract. These pockets—called diverticula—develop with age and are most commonly found in the large intestine or colon. Mild or severe abdominal pain is a prevalent symptom of diverticulitis, and the best way to relieve this pain varies with the severity of the condition.
Understanding Diverticulitis Pain
According to the Mayo Clinic, the presence of diverticulitis is commonly announced by sudden, severe pain in the lower left abdomen. In some cases, the pain begins more gradually and builds over several days, or it fluctuates in intensity. If you are suffering from diverticulitis, your symptoms may also include fever, nausea, vomiting, significant changes in your bowel habits, and tenderness to touch in your lower abdomen. Additionally, some individuals experience bloating and rectal bleeding. See your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
The inflammation of diverticulitis is typically associated with an underlying infection. If your inflammation-related pain is mild or moderate, you may be able to treat your symptoms at home. The main portion of a home care routine involves bed rest combined with the temporary use of a liquid diet designed to give any active infection time to heal. If your pain eases, after a period of three days or so you may begin introducing high-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains. During this time, your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics to kill any bacterial sources of infection. If your symptoms are more severe, you may be treated with over-the-counter or prescription pain medications. However, some medications may trigger constipation and a worsening of symptoms, so your doctor may need to experiment a bit to find a suitable solution.
In some cases, the onset of diverticulitis is particularly acute, leading to potential development of peritonitis or bowel obstruction. If this is true for you, your doctor may order hospitalization and a course of intravenous antibiotics. Once the acute phase has passed, you will likely be placed on a high-fiber diet that may also include supplements such as psyllium to improve overall bowel function.
In certain situations, long-term diverticulitis pain relief is best achieved through surgical intervention. This may be true if your diverticulitis recurs frequently, or is accompanied by an abscess, perforation of the colon or fistula (an abnormal structural connection within the colon, or with nearby organs).
If an abscess is present, it may be drained through a catheter that is placed with the help of a computed tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound procedure. Your surgeon may also use a procedure called bowel resection to remove the damaged part of your colon and reattach its remaining sections, or reattach the colon to the rectum. This technique can be performed as a traditional open surgery, or through a less invasive method called a laparoscopy. If the inflammation in your colon is severe, your bowel resection may be combined with temporary or permanent use of a colostomy bag, which collects feces outside the body.