Diverticulitis in Young Patients: Is Resection After a Single Attack Always Warranted?

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Diverticulitis has been described as a more virulent disease in young patients, necessitating an aggressive surgical approach. We hypothesized that the subgroup of young patients who do not require surgery on their initial presentation are unlikely to present at a later date with perforation and do not always require prophylactic resection as commonly recommended.


A retrospective chart review was conducted of all patients presenting to Fletcher Allen Health Care, the teaching hospital of the University of Vermont, from January 1, 1990 to June 30, 2001. Outcomes in patients aged 50 years or younger (Group 1) were compared with patients older than aged 50 years (Group 2) using a log-rank test.


A total of 762 patients were admitted with sigmoid diverticulitis during the study period, 238 (31 percent) of whom underwent surgery. Two hundred fifty-nine patients (34 percent) were younger than aged 50 years (Group 1). The risk of requiring surgery on initial hospital presentation was similar between the two groups (24vs.22 percent, respectively;P= 0.8). However, Group 1 patients were more likely to be treated operatively at some point during the study period (40vs.26 percent;P= 0.001) because of an increase in elective resections. Of 196 patients in Group 1 who had an initial medically managed admission, only 1 presented at a later date with perforation (0.5 percent).


The risk of subsequent diverticular perforation in medically managed young patients with sigmoid diverticulitis is very low. As such, the frequently espoused policy of routine surgery after a single attack of diverticulitis in young patients may not be warranted. A more selective approach seems to be safe.

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