Signs Your Diverticulitis Could Be in a Flare-Up

July 21, 2021

For people who have felt the steady, sharp abdominal pain of a diverticulitis attack, another flare-up is not something that you’d want to experience again, although it may happen: More than half of people who experience diverticulitis once are likely to have another flare-up.

Diverticulitis is the name for the condition caused by inflammation or infection of the diverticula, which are small, bulging pouches that sometimes develop in weak spots along the wall of someone’s colon or large intestines.

“Diverticula may form as people get older, particularly if they’re overweight, don’t exercise and eat a low-fiber diet,” says Steven Koerner, D.O., FACOI, gastroenterologist at Hackensack Meridian Medical Group. “In most people, these extra bulges along the colon wall don’t cause health problems, and most people don’t realize that they have them. But when diverticula becomes inflamed or infected, the resulting diverticulitis can be quite painful.”

Symptoms of a diverticulitis flare-up

If you think that you may have diverticulitis, or if you’ve been diagnosed before and you think that you’re having a flare-up, call or see your doctor. Common symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Constant abdominal pain that lasts for days, typically on the lower left side of the abdomen (although some people experience it on the lower right side)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fever and/or chills
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal tenderness or cramping
  • Rectal bleeding

You’re more likely to experience a diverticulitis flare-up if you are:

  • Over age 40
  • Overweight or obese
  • A smoker
  • Physically inactive
  • Someone whose diet is high in animal products and low in fiber (most Americans)
  • Someone who takes non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids or opioids

Treatment for a diverticulitis flare-up

If you’re having a diverticulitis flare-up, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection. Be sure to take the medication for the entire course that it’s prescribed, rather than stopping when you start to feel better. Your doctor may also suggest that you:

  • Consume a liquid diet or low-fiber diet until your flare-up improves
  • Rest as needed

Sometimes, doctors recommend surgery for people with more serious flare-ups or recurrent diverticulitis. Surgical removal of the affected portion of the colon (and the infected or inflamed diverticula) should resolve the problem.

How to lower your risk of diverticulitis flare-ups

“It may not be possible to guarantee that you’ll never have another diverticulitis flare-up, but you may lower your risk of a recurrence if you follow certain healthy lifestyle habits,” says Dr. Koerner.

Try to adopt habits like these:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet, with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise regularly
  • Quit smoking

In the past, doctors used to tell people with diverticulitis that they should avoid eating popcorn, nuts, large and small seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and everything in between) and foods which contain seeds (including tomatoes and strawberries) to reduce the risk of a flare-up, but this is an outdated recommendation. Feel free to eat these foods, unless they cause you discomfort.

Next Steps & Resources:

Meet our source: Steven Koerner, D.O., FACOI 

To make an appointment with Dr. Koerner, or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.