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Clostridium Difficile

A healthy human body is home to a variety of useful bacteria, including those that populate the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to keep dangerous organisms at bay. But when conditions such as illness or surgery require antibiotics, treatment designed to protect patients can also eliminate helpful organisms. This increases the risk of infections like the aggressive Clostridium difficile (C. difficile).

At The University of Kansas Health System, our experts use the latest treatment options to help cure patients of resistant or recurrent C. difficile.

What is C. difficile?

C. difficile, often called C. diff, is a common bacterial infection and can be aggressive. It infects about 500,000 people in the United States every year and sends hundreds of thousands to the hospital. C. difficile can be fatal, causing 14,000 to 30,000 deaths annually.

Organisms normally present in the GI tract generally occupy the sites where C. difficile would attach and grow. When antibiotics wipe out helpful bacteria, C. difficile can take hold. When those who carry C. difficile fail to wash their hands well, they contaminate surfaces they touch. When others touch contaminated surfaces, they may inadvertently transfer the bacteria to their food or mouths.

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C. difficile symptoms and risks

The symptoms of C. difficile include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Mild to moderate nausea
  • Watery diarrhea three or more times a day for more than 2 days

In more serious cases, inflammation within the colon can be extensive, even cause bleeding and damage to the intestinal lining. Symptoms of severe infections include:

  • Dehydration
  • Fever
  • Severe abdominal pain and intestinal cramping
  • Watery diarrhea as often as 15 times daily
  • Weight loss

Very severe cases can lead to dehydration, low blood pressure, kidney failure or bowel perforation.

Antibiotic use is the primary trigger of a C. difficile infection, especially when used for a long period of time or when a broad-spectrum antibiotic that kills a wide variety of bacteria has been prescribed.

Additional risk factors include:

  • 65 years of age or older
  • Existing intestinal issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease or colon cancer
  • Previous C. difficile infection, especially recent
  • Recent abdominal surgery
  • Weakened immune system due to chemotherapy, immunosuppression drugs or AIDS

If you develop diarrhea within a few days of admission to or release from the hospital or within 2 months of taking an antibiotic or have 3 or more bouts of diarrhea in 24 hours, C. difficile could be responsible.

C. difficile diagnosis and screening

There are several ways to diagnose and treat C. difficile.

The infection can be diagnosed by:

Patient Patrice Stech

C. diff treatment saved her life

As a stay-at-home mother, Patrice Stech needs strength, health and flexibility to nurture her 3 children, all under age 7. But a lengthy battle with recurrent Clostridium difficile infections compromised her ability to focus on her family.

Read Patrice's story

C. difficile treatment

  • If you are already taking an antibiotic, your doctor may switch to a different one. Metronidazole, vancomycin and fidaxomicin are often chosen to combat stubborn C. difficile.

  • Fecal microbiota transplantation is a procedure in which stool from a healthy donor is transferred into the colon of the patient with C. difficile. The healthy stool brings with it the healthy microorganisms lacking in the patient's GI tract.

  • These living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts, are similar to those that naturally inhabit the GI tract and can help fight C. difficile by competing for the space it occupies.

  • In severe cases, a surgeon may need to remove the infected or damaged part of the GI tract.

Why choose us for C. difficile treatment

As a national leader in academic medicine, we provide comprehensive care for even the most complex conditions. Our physicians, nurses and staff share a commitment to service, continuous improvement and patient care excellence.