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Diverticulitis - Treatment Overview

You may have a brief (acute) bout of diverticulitis that goes away after treatment with antibiotics and a liquid diet. But in some cases the condition occurs off and on (intermittently) over the long term (chronic). Treatment is the same in both cases, unless complications occur.

Initial treatment

Treatment for diverticulitis depends on how bad your symptoms are. If the pain is mild, you are able to drink liquids, and you have no signs of complications, treatment may include:

  • Medicines such as antibiotics and pain relievers.
  • Changes in diet, starting with a clear-liquid or bland diet that is low in fiber until the pain goes away, then increasing the amount of fiber.

If the pain is severe, you are not able to drink liquids, or you have complications of diverticulitis, a hospital stay is needed. Treatment will include:

  • Antibiotics given in a vein (intravenous, or IV).
  • Intravenous fluids and nutrition only (no food or drink by mouth) for up to a week to allow the bowel to rest.

Treatment may also include:

  • Keeping the stomach empty by sucking out the contents through a tube passed up the nose and down the throat into the stomach (nasogastric or NG tube). This may be needed if you are vomiting or have abdominal swelling.
  • Doing surgery either for complications of diverticulitis or if you have had repeated attacks that are not helped by changing your diet. Overall, fewer than 6 out of 100 people who have diverticulitis need surgery.3

Most cases of promptly treated diverticulitis will improve in 2 to 3 days. If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better.

Ongoing treatment

Treatment after recovery from an attack of diverticulitis is aimed at preventing another attack. Treatment may include:

  • Gradually increasing the amount of fiber in the diet through fruits, vegetables, wheat bran, and possibly the regular use of a fiber supplement.
  • Getting plenty of fluids daily.
  • Having regular doctor visits to monitor your condition. If you have diverticulitis, the doctor may see you about 2 days after treatment begins to make sure you are improving. A colonoscopy or barium enema X-ray probably will be done about 6 weeks later, after symptoms are under control, to look for any other problems, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer.

Treatment if the condition gets worse

In some cases, complications of diverticulitis, such as an abscess, perforation, or bowel obstruction, can occur. Surgery to remove the affected part of the intestine usually is needed to treat these conditions.

Nonurgent (elective) surgery also may be done for diverticulitis if you have had two or more severe attacks, are younger than age 40, or have an impaired immune system.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 25, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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