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Medical History and Physical Exam for Diverticulitis

Exam Overview

A doctor usually will take a medical history and do a physical exam if you have symptoms of diverticulitis.

If your medical problem affects your abdomen, your doctor will ask questions (medical history) about:

  • Your bowel function, including the number of times a day or week you pass a stool, changes in how often you feel the need to go to the bathroom, the size and shape of your stool, any blood or mucus in your stool, and whether you have diarrhea or constipation.
  • Abdominal (belly) pain, including when the pain first began, where it is located, how severe it is, how long it lasts, how often it occurs, whether it gets worse when you move, whether anything makes it better or worse, and whether you have had similar pain in the past.
  • Whether you have had a fever or chills.
  • Urinary problems, including whether you have frequent urination, you have burning when you urinate, your urine has a strong odor, or you pass air or stool from your urethra (a sign that you may have an opening, or fistula, between your colon and urinary tract).
  • Any family history of similar symptoms.
  • Your use of laxatives or antacids.
  • Abdominal tenderness and when it began.
  • If you are a woman, whether you have had any changes in your period, any vaginal discharge, or any infections or inflammations of the pelvic area.
  • Any previous abdominal surgery.
  • Any weight loss or gain.

A dietary history includes questions about the amount of fiber, fat, and salt in your diet. If your symptoms are mild and occur only sometimes, your doctor may recommend that you try a high-fiber, low-fat diet.

During the physical exam to learn the cause of an abdominal problem, your doctor will:

  • Check your temperature to see if you have a fever.
  • Listen to your heart and lungs.
  • Look for swelling in your abdomen.
  • Feel or press on (palpate) your abdomen and your back over your kidneys. While doing this, the doctor may check for enlargement of your liver or spleen. The doctor also may look for any hard or painful spots.
  • Examine your rectum, and check your stool for blood.
  • Do a pelvic exam (in women) to learn whether a problem with your reproductive organs could be causing your symptoms.

Why It Is Done

A history and physical exam are needed for anyone who sees a doctor about abdominal pain or tenderness or a change in bowel habits.

Results

Your medical history and physical exam can provide your doctor with clues about the cause of your symptoms. Your doctor then may decide to do more tests (especially if there are several possible causes for your symptoms or if the cause is still unclear), begin treatment, or both.

What To Think About

If your symptoms are not severe, your doctor may recommend a change in your diet and watchful waiting.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF)medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Current as of July 19, 2012

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