What is clostridioides difficile colitis?

Clostridioides Difficile Colitis

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis: Overview

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) is a type of bacteria that can infect the large intestine, or colon. This can cause the colon to swell and get inflamed. When this happens, it's called C. diff colitis.

This type of colitis can cause diarrhea and belly cramps. It can also cause a fever.

The infection is most common in people who are taking antibiotics while in the hospital.

If this type of colitis gets serious, it can cause the colon to get much bigger than normal. This is called toxic megacolon. It's an emergency that needs to be treated right away. Signs of this problem include a swollen belly that hurts. They also include a fast heartbeat and a fever.

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis

Clostridioides difficile colitis (or C. diff colitis) is inflammation of the large intestine (colon) caused by a certain type of bacteria (C. diff). It sometimes occurs after a hospital stay or antibiotic treatment.

Symptoms (which can be mild or severe) include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and fever. The first step in treatment for C. diff colitis is to stop taking the antibiotics that caused the infection, if possible. Treatment also may include taking an antibiotic that specifically kills C. diff.

You may get a medicine called a bile salt binder (such as cholestyramine) that can help control the diarrhea. And probiotics, which are bacteria that help keep the natural balance of organisms (microflora) in the intestines, may be helpful for people who have repeated C. diff infections.

In some cases, a fecal transplant can be done that restores good bacteria to the colon and helps get rid of the C. diff infection.

What are the symptoms of Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis?

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis may cause diarrhea, belly cramps, fever, or dehydration. You also may have an abnormal heartbeat, especially if you become dehydrated. Symptoms usually begin 4 to 10 days after you start taking antibiotics. But they might not start until a few weeks after you stop taking antibiotics.

How is Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis treated?

Your doctor may have you stop taking the antibiotic that caused Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis. The doctor may then treat it with a different antibiotic. For severe diarrhea, you may be given fluids to prevent dehydration. If C. diff is severe or comes back a few times, a fecal transplant may be done.

How can you avoid spreading Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) infection?

When you have Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), you and everyone around you must take special care to avoid spreading it. You must use extra care after you use the bathroom.

The best way to prevent spreading the infection is to wash your hands well and often.

  • Wash your hands with running water and soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Don't touch the faucet with your hand. Use a paper towel to turn off the water.

Don't use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands with soap and water. Sanitizer will not kill C. diff.

If you start having diarrhea again, call your doctor right away. Your doctor will tell you when you no longer need to take special care to prevent spreading C. diff.

How is Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis diagnosed?

Your doctor may think you have Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis if both of the following are true:

  • You are taking, or you recently took, antibiotics.
  • You have symptoms of the illness. These may include:
    • Watery diarrhea (which may contain blood or pus).
    • Swelling, cramps, pain, or tenderness in the belly.
    • Fever.
    • Dehydration.

To confirm the diagnosis, a sample of your stool will be tested. The test will check for the bacteria by looking for its DNA. Another test may be done to look for the toxins that C. diff produces.

Your doctor may look at the inside of your colon through a thin, lighted tube called a colonoscope. In the most serious cases, the doctor may see patches of yellow and white tissue on the inside of the colon.

How can you care for your child who has Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis?

  • The doctor will give your child antibiotics to treat the colitis. But it will be a different kind than the kind that caused the colitis. Give the antibiotics as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • To prevent dehydration, give your child plenty of fluids. Choose water and other clear liquids until your child feels better.
  • Give your child small amounts of mild foods, if your child wants to eat.
  • To prevent the spread of C. diff, practice good hygiene. Help your child keep their hands clean by washing them well and often with soap and clean, running water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers do not kill C. diff.

How does Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) get passed to other people?

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) can be passed from person to person. It can also be passed from person to object to person. It’s important that your infection does not spread to other people. Preventing the spread of C. diff is a top health concern in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

If you have a C. diff infection, you can spread it if you don’t wash your hands well enough with soap and water after you use the bathroom. Anything you touch, like a door handle, bed rail, or phone, can then carry the bacteria. C. diff can live on objects for a very long time.

The infection spreads to other people when they touch an object that has C. diff on it and then use their hands to eat or rub their faces.

Health care workers can pass C. diff from room to room in a hospital or a long-term care facility. Visitors can also spread it.

What causes Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis?

The large intestine has many good bacteria that keep it healthy and do not cause disease. If you take antibiotics to kill bacteria that do cause disease, your medicine may also kill the good bacteria. This may allow Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) bacteria to grow in your large intestine. They can release harmful substances called toxins.

When the toxins are released, the colon becomes inflamed.

People who take medicines that reduce stomach acid, such as Nexium, Prevacid, or Prilosec, also have a greater risk of getting a C. diff infection. Your doctor can help you decide which medicines to keep or change.

What is Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis?

Clostridioides difficile (also called C. diff) are bacteria that can cause swelling and irritation of the large intestine, or colon. This inflammation, known as colitis, can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.

You may get C. diff colitis if you take antibiotics. C. diff also can be passed from person to person. But the infection is most common in people who are taking antibiotics or have taken them recently. It is also common in older people who are in hospitals and nursing homes and in people who are getting chemotherapy for cancer.

Colitis caused by C. diff can be mild or serious. In rare cases, it can cause death.

Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis: When to call

Call 911 if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever over 101°F or shaking chills.
  • You feel lightheaded or have a fast heart rate.
  • You pass stools that are almost always bloody.
  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and pass only a little urine.
  • You have severe belly pain with or without bloating.
  • You have severe vomiting and cannot keep down liquids.
  • You are not passing any stools or gas.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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