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Diverticulitis Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Kamyar Shahedi, MD; Chief Editor: BS Anand, MD  more...
 
Updated: Jun 17, 2016
 

History

The clinical presentation of diverticulitis depends on the location of the affected diverticulum, the severity of the inflammatory process, and the presence of complications. Left lower quadrant pain is the most common presenting complaint and occurs in 70% of patients. Pain is often described as crampy and may be associated with a change in bowel habits. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, flatulence, and bloating. Symptoms of mild diverticulitis may be confused with overlapping symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

A microperforation, most likely walled off by adjacent structures, may present with no systemic signs of illness or infection.However, the disease may progress from a localized and walled-off process to one with peridiverticular inflammatory phlegmon and localized abscess. Systemic signs of infection (eg, fever) then develop. Because diverticula and, hence, diverticulitis can develop anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract, symptoms may mimic multiple conditions. Note the following:

  • Diverticulitis in the right colon or in a redundant sigmoid colon may be mistaken for acute appendicitis. Cecal diverticulitis can also mimic acute appendicitis, but cecal diverticulae are generally rare. Diverticulitis in the transverse colon may mimic peptic ulcer disease, pancreatitis, or cholecystitis. Retroperitoneal involvement may present similar to renal disease. In women, lower quadrant pain may be difficult to distinguish from a gynecological process.
  • More severe diverticulitis is often accompanied by anorexia, nausea, and vomiting. Typically, the pain is localized and severe and present for several days prior to presentation. Altered bowel habits, especially constipation, are reported by most patients. A small percentage of patients may complain of urinary symptoms, such as dysuria, urgency, and frequency, due to inflammation adjacent to urinary tract structures.
  • Macroperforation with spillage of colonic contents into the peritoneum leads to generalized abdominal pain and peritonitis, or it may lead to a localized pelvic, left lower quadrant, or right lower quadrant abscess with more localized abdominal pain and peritonitis.
  • Leg pain possibly associated with a thigh abscess and leg emphysema secondary to retroperitoneal perforation from diverticulitis have been reported.
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Physical Examination

Diverticulitis can present with a range of physical findings, mirroring the severity of the inflammation and the presence of complications.

In simple diverticulitis, localized abdominal tenderness in the area of the affected diverticula and fever are common findings. Left lower quadrant tenderness is the most common physical finding, as most diverticula occur in the sigmoid colon. Right lower quadrant tenderness, mimicking acute appendicitis, can occur in right-sided diverticulitis.

In complicated diverticulitis with abscess formation, a tender palpable mass may be felt on physical examination. In fact, 20% of cases present with a palpable mass on abdominal, pelvic, or rectal examination. Peritonitis due to free perforation results in generalized tenderness with rebound and guarding on abdominal examination. The abdomen may be distended and tympanic to percussion. Bowel sounds can be diminished or absent.

Elderly patients and some patients taking corticosteroids may have unremarkable findings on physical examination even in the presence of severe diverticulitis. Such patients must be approached with a high index of suspicion to avoid a delay in establishing the correct diagnosis.

If a fistula forms, the findings vary depending on the type of fistula. Colovesicular fistulas may present with urinary tract symptoms, such as suprapubic, flank, or costovertebral angle tenderness. Fecaluria or pneumaturia can also be observed. Female patients with colovaginal fistulas may present with a purulent vaginal discharge.

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Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Kamyar Shahedi, MD Clinical Instructor, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Kamyar Shahedi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Medical Association, California Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Stanley K Dea, MD Chief of Endoscopy, Acting Chief of Gastroenterology, Consulting Gastroenterologist Olive View-University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center; Director of Enteral Feeding, West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center; Director of Endoscopic Training, University of California at Los Angeles Affiliated Training Program in Gastroenterology

Stanley K Dea, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, Southern California Society of Gastroenterology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Yuvrajsinh Narendrasinh Chudasama, MD Staff Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center; Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine

Yuvrajsinh Narendrasinh Chudasama, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Duminda B Suraweera, MD Resident Physician, Department of Medicine, Olive View–UCLA Medical Center

Duminda B Suraweera, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Marc D Basson, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS Associate Dean for Medicine, Professor of Surgery and Basic Science, University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences

Marc D Basson, MD, PhD, MBA, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Surgeons, American Gastroenterological Association, Phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

BS Anand, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine

BS Anand, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

BS Anand, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine

BS Anand, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, American Gastroenterological Association, and American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

David Greenwald, MD Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Fellowship Program Director, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Montefiore Medical Center, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

David Greenwald, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, and New York Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Norvin Perez, MD Medical Director, Juneau Urgent and Family Care

Norvin Perez, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians and American Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Waqar A Qureshi, MD Associate Professor of Medicine, Chief of Endoscopy, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Baylor College of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Waqar A Qureshi, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Gastroenterology, American College of Physicians, American Gastroenterological Association, and American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Ahmed Sherif, MD Staff Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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