Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Diverticulitis – The Sinusitis of the Colon?

Antibiotics are wonderful things.  They treat and provide life-saving amelioration of symptoms from the common cold, the flu, bronchitis, sinusitis, and otitis – or, more accurately, they don't.  Rather than generalize the treatment with antibiotics for all these illness, it is rather the avoidance of antibiotics that should be generalized, with specific exceptions made as necessary.

The next "-itis" to go under the microscope is diverticulitis.  These authors from Iceland and Sweden deserve, at the minimum, kudos for innovation in swimming against the tide.  The treatment of acute diverticulitis – a febrile illness with an elevated WBC and left-lower quadrant pain – is generally gram-negative and anaerobic coverage as an inpatient or outpatient, depending on comorbidities.  These authors propose that diverticulitis is most frequently a self-limited process, rather than one that requires antibiotics.

This a non-blinded trial of antibiotics vs. non-treatment for CT-demonstrated acute, uncomplicated diverticulitis.  Over 600 patients were admitted, with half receiving simple observation and symptomatic treatment vs. half with the same plus antibiotics.  1% of patients in the antibiotic group suffered treatment failure – progression to abscess or perforation – compared with 2% of patients in the placebo group.

Unfortunately, we're not quite done with antibiotics based on just this study.  It is unblinded with variable enrollment between centers, leading to several sources of potential bias.  Then, ten patients in the no-antibiotics group crossed over to receive antibiotics for clinical worsening during hospitalization.  However, this is still below the 6.5% complication rate the authors thought might be an acceptable failure rate for conservative therapy.

Many more questions to be answered regarding external validity, so hopefully this inspires other investigators to further explore which subset patients will derive benefit from antibiotics in diverticulitis.

"Randomized clinical trial of antibiotics in acute uncomplicated diverticulitis"
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22290281

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