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Diverticular Disease

What Are The Complications From Diverticular Disease?

Last updated on:
21/03/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

People generally remain unaware that they have diverticular disease unless a complication arises. Complications typically start when one or more of the pouches, or diverticula, become infected and inflamed and diverticulitis develops.

Symptoms from complications can come on quite suddenly and include:

Bleeding From The Rectum

Small blood vessels can be particularly fragile in inflamed diverticula. They can become so stretched that they weaken and finally burst, releasing a surge of blood. The blood may appear in the stool or in the toilet. The bleeding may stop spontaneously and not require treatment. If it continues, it may require surgery.

Abscess

If an infected diverticulum (a single diverticula) cannot be treated successfully with antibiotics, an abscess may develop. An abscess is a collection of pus surrounded by inflamed tissue. The abscess may go away if the person takes antibiotics, or it may deteriorate and burst, causing peritonitis, a life-threatening infection in the abdominal cavity.

Perforation

Sometimes an inflamed diverticulum perforates (tears). The risk of perforation is particularly high after a diverticulum becomes seriously infected and develops an abscess. Pus from the abscess can leak out from the intestinal walls into surrounding cavities.

Peritonitis

Once an infection leaks out of the intestinal walls through a perforated (torn) diverticulum, it can lead to peritonitis, a life-threatening infection in the abdominal cavity.

Intestinal Obstruction

Infection from diverticular disease can cause enough thickening and scarring of the bowel wall to block the large intestine, constricting the movement of bowel contents. A complete obstruction requires emergency surgery.

Fistula

A fistula is an abnormal connection between two organs. This can arise when inflamed or damaged tissue sticks to another organ and heals that way. For example, an infected diverticulum may attach to organs such as the bladder or small intestine. Often in men, a fistula forms between the colon and the bladder. This can lead to a severe urinary tract infection. (In women, the uterus normally blocks the colon's path to the bladder.)

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.