C. Difficile Infection | Digestive Health Program | Loyola Medicine

C. Difficile Infection

Overview and Facts about C. Difficile Infection

A C. difficile infection, better known as C. diff., develops when Clostridium difficile bacteria cause an infection in the gastrointestinal system. This type of infection brings about a number of digestive health problems and affects about 500,000 people each year in the United States.

Signs and Symptoms of C. Difficile Infection

Symptoms of a C. difficile infection can range from unpleasant diarrhea to life-threatening situations. If you have a mild infection, you might experience a few days of abdominal cramping and watery stools.

However, if the infection is more severe, you may experience severe dehydration due to inflammation in your gastrointestinal system. Other symptoms include:

  • Having diarrhea more than 10 times a day
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Rapid heart rate

Causes and Risk Factors of C. Difficile Infection

Most people who contract C. diff infections get them while in the hospital, as this type of bacteria tends to flourish in a clinical environment. For example, it can spread if a nurse does not wash their hands after handling a patient. It often strikes people who have just taken antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the helpful bacteria in your gut that keep C. diff levels under control, allowing them to grow unchecked.

Tests and Diagnosis of C. Difficile Infection

Doctors perform stool tests to try to detect certain toxins released by the C. difficile bacteria. These tests might include:

  • Polymerase chain reaction, a test that detects the C. diff B gene
  • Enzyme immunoassay, which is quick but can produce a false negative
  • GDH/EIA, a combination of tests that can rule out the presence of C. diff

Your doctor might also use a colon examination to look for inflammation, or an imaging test such as an X-ray or CT scan to look for complications.

Treatment and Care for C. Difficile Infection

While antibiotics might have been the catalyst for your C. diff infection, they are also the treatment. A different strain targets the C. difficile bacterium; your prescription might be for fidaxomicin, vancomycin, or metronidazole.

An emerging treatment for recurring C. difficile infections is a fecal microbiota transplant. In this procedure, doctors transfer a stool from a healthy patient into your colon to help reset a normal bacteria balance.