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Clostridium Difficile Colitis - Overview

What is Clostridium difficile colitis?

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

You may get C. difficile colitisC. difficile if you take antibiotics. C. difficile 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. difficile can be mild or serious. In rare cases, it can cause death.

What causes it?

The large intestine normally contains 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 C. difficile bacteria to grow in your large intestine and release harmful substances called toxins. Experts also think that, in some cases, antibiotics may cause these toxins to be released.

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. difficile infection.1

C. difficile may be spread when an infected person does not wash his or her hands after using the bathroom and then touches something like a door handle, bed rail, or phone. This may leave C. difficile bacteria on the objects. Other people can get infected if they touch a contaminated object and then eat or rub their faces with their hands. Health care workers can pass this bacteria from room to room in a hospital or a long-term care facility.

The best way to prevent spreading C. difficile is to wash your hands often, especially after you use the bathroom. It is also a good idea to wash your hands before and after you visit a hospital, nursing home, or other place where people may be ill or weak.

What are the symptoms?

C. difficile colitis may cause:

You also may have an abnormal heartbeat.

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.

The illness may be so mild that you have some diarrhea but no fever or cramps. In rare cases, a person who is very ill may develop a hole, or perforation, in the intestine. A perforation is a medical emergency and requires surgery.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 03, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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