Ilyas Memon, MD

Is Diverticulitis Life-Threatening?

Jul 01, 2023

Is Diverticulitis Life-Threatening?

Diverticulitis is a serious medical condition that happens when tiny “pouches” inside your colon become inflamed or infected. Knowing what symptoms to look for and the complications it can cause can help you get treatment as soon as possible.

When it comes to bowel health, most of us focus on colorectal cancer detection and prevention — and for good reason: As the second leading cause of cancer death for both women and men in the United States, colorectal cancer can have devastating effects. 

Still, colorectal cancer isn’t the only serious digestive issue that affects your colon. Diverticulosis is another problem that becomes more common with age, and without treatment, it can lead to a serious — and yes, even life-threatening — inflammatory condition called diverticulitis.

A board-certified gastroenterologist at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants in The Woodlands, Magnolia, and Willis, Texas, Ilyas Memon, MD, offers state-of-the-art diverticulitis treatment focused on relieving symptoms and preventing serious complications. Here’s how diverticulitis happens and why prompt treatment is critical.

Basic facts about diverticulitis

Sometimes when we age, tiny pouches form in the inner wall of the colon. These pouches are called diverticula, and if you have them, you have a condition called diverticulosis. 

Diverticulosis is very common, affecting as many as half of all people over age 60. Typically, diverticula cause no problems; many people may not even know they have them. But about 5% of people with diverticula (or diverticulosis) develop inflammation and infection in and around the pouches — the condition known as diverticulitis.

Diverticulitis is associated with an array of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Belly pain, often located on the lower left side
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating with or without gas
  • Blood in the stool
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Fatigue

Symptoms can be severe, and they can quickly become worse if there’s an infection that spreads.

Serious complications

Diverticulitis is a serious problem and requires prompt medical attention. Without proper care, you can develop major complications, including:

  • Abscesses, deep infections in your colon
  • Colon blockage
  • Severe bleeding
  • Fistulas, or tunnels that form between your bowel and other organs
  • Perforations or holes in the colon wall
  • Sepsis, a widespread and often deadly infection

Researchers aren’t sure what causes diverticulosis and diverticulitis. Genetics, low-fiber diets, straining during bowel movements, and muscle spasms in the colon could play a role.

Managing diverticulitis

Diverticulitis typically responds to combination therapy of both medical management and dietary changes. Dr. Memon develops each treatment plan based on an individual’s symptoms and other factors.

For mild cases of diverticulitis, dietary changes alone often suffice. Patients with mild diverticulitis initially need to follow a liquid diet or a light diet featuring easy-to-digest foods to give the inflammation a chance to subside and allow the bowel a chance to rest. 

For infections and painful inflammation, antibiotics and pain relievers can offer relief and help the colon heal. For more advanced infections, Dr. Memon may recommend a drain to eliminate pus and other fluids associated with infection. In severe cases, surgery may be required.

Don’t ignore your symptoms

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of diverticulitis, prompt care is essential for preventing life-threatening complications. To schedule your evaluation, call 281-764-9500 or request an appointment online with Dr. Memon today.