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Diverticular disease is a common GI disorder that occurs when small herniations through the wall of the colon, or diverticula, become inflamed or infected.

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Clinical Features

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The most common symptom is a steady, deep discomfort in the left lower quadrant of the abdomen. Other symptoms include tenesmus and changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or increasing constipation and nausea/vomiting. Urinary tract symptoms are less common. Patients with a redundant sigmoid colon, of Asian descent, or with right-sided disease may complain of pain in other abdominal regions, including the right lower quadrant. The presentation can mimic other diseases, such as appendicitis. Half of patients will describe a similar prior episode.

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Patients have a low-grade fever, but the temperature may be higher in patients with generalized peritonitis and in those with an abscess. Physical findings range from mild abdominal tenderness to severe pain, obstruction, and peritonitis. Occult blood may be present in the stool. A pelvic examination should be performed in female patients to exclude a gynecologic source of symptoms.

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Diagnosis and Differential

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The differential diagnosis includes acute appendicitis, colitis (ischemic or infectious), inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis), colon cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, pseudomembranous colitis, epiploic appendagitis, gallbladder disease, incarcerated hernia, mesenteric infarction, complicated ulcer disease, peritonitis, obstruction, ovarian torsion, ectopic pregnancy, ovarian cyst or mass, pelvic inflammatory disease, sarcoidosis, collagen vascular disease, cystitis, kidney stone, renal pathology, and pancreatic disease.

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Diverticulitis can be diagnosed by clinical history and examination alone. In stable patients with past similar acute presentations, no further diagnostic evaluation is necessary unless the patient fails to improve with conservative medical treatment. If a patient does not have a prior diagnosis or the current episode is different from past episodes, diagnostic imaging should be performed to rule out other intraabdominal pathology and evaluate for complications. CT scan is the preferred imaging modality for its ability to evaluate the severity of disease and the presence of complications. CT with IV and oral contrast has documented sensitivities of 97% and specificities approaching 100%. Laboratory tests, such as a CBC, liver function tests, and urinalysis, are rarely diagnostic but may help exclude other diagnoses.

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Emergency Department Care and Disposition

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ED care begins with fluid and electrolyte replacement, pain and nausea control. Ill appearing patients, those with uncontrolled pain, vomiting, peritoneal signs, signs of systemic infection, comorbidities or immunosuppression, and those with complicated diverticulitis (eg, phlegmon, abscess, obstruction, fistula, or perforation) require admission and surgical consultation.

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  1. Place the patient on complete bowel rest. Opiates, such as morphine 0.1 milligram/kilogram IV, may be required for pain. Nasogastric suction may be indicated in patients with bowel obstruction or adynamic ileus.

  2. Administer IV antibiotics to patients requiring admission. Options include metronidazole 500 milligrams IV with either ciprofloxacin 400 milligrams IV or levofloxacin 750 milligrams IV. Alternate single agent treatment ...

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