PURPOSE: The classic surgical treatment of acute complicated sigmoid diverticulitis with peritonitis is often a two-stage operation with colon resection and a temporary stoma. This approach is associated with high mortality and morbidity and the reversal of the stoma is in many cases not performed because of concurrent diseases and age. Recently, several studies have experimented with laparoscopic lavage as a treatment of acute complicated diverticulitis. The aim of this review was to give an overview of the literature for this new approach and to determine the safety compared with Hartmann's procedure for patients with acute complicated sigmoid diverticulitis. METHODS: A PubMed search was performed for publications between 1990 and May 2008. The terms acute, perforated, diverticulitis, lavage, drainage, and laparoscopy were used in combination. The EMBASE and Cochrane databases were also searched. RESULTS: Eight studies met the inclusion criteria and reported 213 patients with acute complicated diverticulitis managed by laparoscopic lavage. None of these studies were randomized. The patients' mean age was 59 years and most patients had Hinchey Grade 3 disease. All patients were treated with antibiotics and laparoscopic lavage. Conversion to laparotomy was made in six (3%) patients and the mean hospital stay was nine days. Ten percent of the patients had complications. During the mean follow-up of 38 months, 38% of the patients underwent elective sigmoid resection with primary anastomosis. CONCLUSION: Primary laparoscopic lavage for complicated diverticulitis may be a promising alternative to more radical surgery in selected patients. Larger studies have to be made before clinical recommendations can be given.