Background: While the association of recurrent bouts of abdominal pain with colonic diverticulosis is well recognized, the cause of this pain is obscure since in most cases it occurs without obvious diverticulitis or other potential causes.
Aims: To define the patterns of pain in diverticular disease and the influence of acute diverticulitis.
Methods: Two studies were undertaken to establish the relationship between bouts of prolonged abdominal pain (> 24 h) presumed to be due to inflammatory diverticulitis and recurrent short-lived pain. In Study 1, 261 patients with a barium enema showing diverticulosis completed a postal questionnaire concerning episodes of both prolonged and short-lived pain. In Study 2, 26 patients previously admitted to hospital with a firm diagnosis of diverticulitis were interviewed for details of their bowel habits since discharge.
Results: Study 1: 94/261 patients experienced recurrent, short-lived pain on a median of five days a month, with a median duration of 3 h. In addition, 51/261 patients described episodes of prolonged pain with a median duration of three days. Of these, 31/51 (61%) experienced recurrent, short-lived pain compared with 63/210 (30%) who had not had an episode of prolonged pain. More specifically, 12/17 (71%) who received antibiotic treatment for presumed acute diverticulitis during their bout of prolonged pain experienced recurrent pain compared with 82/244 (34%) who did not experience such an episode. Study 2: 18/26 patients hospitalized for acute diverticulitis developed new, recurrent, short-lived abdominal pain following discharge, with a median duration of 4 h.
Conclusion: Episodes of prolonged, presumed inflammatory pain due to diverticulitis are frequently followed by recurrent, short-lived pain similar to that seen in irritable bowel syndrome.