Is Diverticulitis Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What is diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is an inflammation of a diverticulum and/or diverticula (an abnormal pouch or sacs formed at a weak point in the wall of the gastrointestinal tract). Inflammation of a diverticulum causes pain and disturbance of bowel function. Signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include the following:

More severe symptoms include fever, abdominal tenderness, swollen abdomen, and fistula formation.

Is diverticulitis contagious?

Causes of diverticulitis are either infectious (bacteria causing inflammation) and/or noninfectious (foods or seeds causing erosion and inflammation when trapped inside a diverticulum). However, diverticulitis is not contagious.

For diverticulitis to occur, an individual must have diverticula develop in their gastrointestinal tracts. There is no evidence that diverticula development is contagious. Medical treatments, for example, metronidazole (Flagyl), ciprofloxacin (Cipro, Cipro XR, Proquin XR), amoxicillin and clavulanic acid (Augmentin), and many others may cure some episodes of diverticulitis, but the diverticula can become re-infected and/or irritated with agents that cause inflammation. Unfortunately, diverticulitis can reoccur. Once the diverticula are formed they become life-long structures unless removed by surgery.

During an attack of diverticulitis, patients are instructed to only eat a clear liquid diet (broth, Jell-O, clear fluids without any pulp). To help prevent further problems, it is advised to eat a high-fiber diet or a vegetarian diet as they are associated with lowering the risk of recurrent disease. Meals should include whole-grain breads, pastas, fresh fruit and vegetables. There is some controversy about which foods to avoid - popcorn, corn, foods with seeds in them and nuts have been recommended to avoid, but there is inadequate data to support this recommendation.

Picture of diverticulitis

Diverticulitis Symptoms

It has been thought as many as 20% of individuals with diverticulosis will develop symptoms related to the diverticulosis, primarily diverticulitis; however, the most recent study suggests that the incidence is closer to 5%.

The most common signs and symptoms of diverticulitis include:

  • Abdominal pain (left lower abdomen)
  • Fever
  • Abdominal tenderness (left lower abdomen
  • Elevated white blood cell count in the blood
  • Constipation or, sometimes, diarrhea.

How will I know if I have diverticulitis?

The preliminary diagnosis is usually made by the person's history of symptoms and the physical exam. A CT scan is considered one of the best methods to confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis. Often blood tests are performed to help diagnose complications of the disease.

How will I know if I am cured of diverticulitis?

Diverticulitis is cured (or brought into remission) when the symptoms described above resolve. This occurs after the causative factors of the inflammation are removed, so the pain of diverticulitis may last hours or days. Consequently, it is important to initiate antibiotic treatments early. Symptoms generally begin to remit in about 2 to 4 days.

However, other than infection from bacteria, there is another potential causative factor for the inflammation (food or seed blockage and/or irritation of the tissue in the diverticula). In this situation, remission of symptoms depends upon successful resolution of the inflammation. Surgery can also be required with severe infectious diverticulitis. Approximately 15% to 25% of patients that have their first episode of diverticulitis will need surgery to treat the disease.

When should I seek emergency medical care for diverticulitis?

  • If a person develops symptoms of diverticulitis they should immediately seek medical care.
  • Any person that develops severe abdominal pain with tenderness should go immediately to the nearest emergency center for evaluation.
  • Medical care should be sought if a person develops blood in the stools or fever with abdominal pain that does not go away.

QUESTION

Bowel regularity means a bowel movement every day. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 10/30/2017
References
REFERENCES:

Shahedi, K, MD. "Diverticulitis." Medscape. Updated Aug 15, 2017.
<https://reference.medscape.com/refarticle-srch/173388-overview>

"Diverticular Disease and Diet." USFC Medical Center.
<https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/diverticular_disease_and_diet>
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