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What is diverticulitis?

If you’ve been experiencing continuing abdominal pain, there’s a chance it could be diverticulitis. If that’s the case, it’s important to seek a medical evaluation.

Brett Dunbar, DO, a general surgeon at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg, says it’s one of the more common perforated bowel problems people experience.

It occurs when diverticula — small, bulging pouches — form in the lining of a person’s digestive system. They most often occur in the colon, which is in the lower part of the large intestine, and usually are seen in individuals over 40.

“They don’t usually cause problems, but occasionally, they can become inflamed or infected,” Dr. Dunbar says.

Symptoms include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and a marked change in bowel habits.

Dr. Dunbar says that a mild case can be medically managed with a change in diet, antibiotics, and rest, while a severe case might require surgery. Anyone who has ongoing pain in the abdomen, particularly when paired with any of the other symptoms, should see a healthcare provider right away; treatment is much simpler and safer when it is started as early as possible.

Exams and tests can assess the condition: An X-ray can show whether there is air in the abdominal cavity, which would indicate a tear. A CT scan of the abdomen can reveal where the hole is located. A higher than usual white blood cell count also is an indication.

Often, a colonoscopy is indicated to rule out other problems and to evaluate risk, Dr. Dunbar says.

Dr. Dunbar advises men and women to get colonoscopies at age 50, as early detection of polyps are important. For anyone with a family history of diverticulitis, he or she should have a colonoscopy 10 years before a relative’s diagnosis.