How Is Diverticulitis Diagnosed?

Symptoms and Physical Exam

Symptoms of diverticulitis can be similar to those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Therefore, a careful physical exam is crucial for diagnosing diverticulitis.

During the exam, the doctor will ask questions about the patient’s symptoms, including abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. They will also check the patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature.

The doctor will then perform a physical examination of the patient’s abdomen, looking for signs of tenderness, swelling, or a mass in the lower left quadrant of the abdomen, which is the most common site of diverticulitis. They may also perform a rectal exam to check for any signs of bleeding or inflammation.

Based on the symptoms and physical exam findings, the doctor may order further tests to confirm the diagnosis of diverticulitis.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can be helpful in diagnosing diverticulitis by indicating the presence of inflammation or infection.

The doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC) to check for an elevated white blood cell count, which is a sign of infection. They may also check for other markers of inflammation, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR).

While blood tests can provide useful information, they are not definitive for diagnosing diverticulitis, and further tests are often needed to confirm the diagnosis.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests can be useful in diagnosing diverticulitis and determining the severity of the condition. The most commonly used imaging tests include:

  1. Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test uses a series of X-rays to create detailed images of the inside of the abdomen. CT scans can show the presence of inflamed or infected diverticula, as well as any complications such as abscesses or perforations.

  2. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the inside of the body. MRI can provide detailed images of the colon and can help identify abscesses or other complications.

  3. Ultrasound: This test uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. Ultrasound can be used to detect the presence of abscesses or fluid collections in the abdomen.

Imaging tests are particularly useful in cases where the diagnosis of diverticulitis is unclear or when complications are suspected.


A colonoscopy may be recommended if the doctor suspects that the patient may have diverticulitis or if the patient has a history of diverticulitis. During a colonoscopy, a long, flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the rectum to examine the inside of the colon.

Colonoscopy can help the doctor identify the presence of diverticula, as well as other conditions such as polyps or tumors that may be causing the patient’s symptoms. If diverticulitis is suspected, the doctor may also take a biopsy of the affected tissue for further testing.

While colonoscopy is a useful tool in diagnosing diverticulitis, it is not always necessary, and other tests may be used instead. Additionally, colonoscopy can be uncomfortable and carries a small risk of complications, such as bleeding or perforation of the colon.

Differential Diagnosis and Conclusion

Diverticulitis can be challenging to diagnose because its symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, such as IBS or IBD. Therefore, the doctor must perform a thorough evaluation and order appropriate tests to rule out other potential causes.

Differential diagnosis involves comparing the patient’s symptoms and test results to a list of possible conditions to identify the most likely diagnosis. Once the doctor has ruled out other potential causes, they can make a definitive diagnosis of diverticulitis.

In conclusion, diagnosing diverticulitis requires a combination of careful evaluation of symptoms, physical examination, and appropriate tests. Blood tests, imaging tests, and colonoscopy can all be helpful in making a diagnosis. Differential diagnosis is also crucial in ruling out other potential causes of the patient’s symptoms.

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