Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection starts in the intestine, caused by the C. diff bacterium. C. diff makes toxins as it grows. These toxins irritate the intestinal lining, which can lead to swelling and pain. In some people, the infection causes symptoms, such as diarrhea. In others, it can cause severe illness.
How Do You Get C. diff?
You can pick up C. diff from dirt and other soiled surfaces around you. The bacteria travels from your hands to your mouth.
The intestines normally have a healthy balance of bacteria that help with digestion. When you take antibiotics for an illness, they can upset this balance by killing off both healthy and unhealthy bacteria. This creates an environment where C. diff, if already living in your intestines, can grow.
Factors that may increase the chances of infection include:
- Certain medications, such as antibiotics or proton pump inhibitors
- Increasing age
- Recent hospital stay
- Having intestinal diseases
- History of C. diff infection
- Weakened immune system
- Poor hygiene, such as lack of proper hand-washing
Symptoms of C. diff Infection
In those that have symptoms, they may include:
- Watery diarrhea — at least three times within 24 hours
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Loss of appetite
Testing for C. diff may include:
- Stool and blood tests
- X-rays and/or CT scans
C. diff Treatment Options
People with C. diff who do not have symptoms do not need treatment. If medications are related to the infection, they can be stopped or changed. Antibiotics are a common problem. Mild infections will usually go away with time.
Antibiotics can treat a C. diff infection.
Fecal Microbiota Transplant
Healthy stool bacteria from a donor can restore a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon. Learn more about FMT.
Severe or repeated infections may need surgery, either:
- Partial colectomy — the infected part of the colon is removed and the two healthy ends of the colon joined together
- Ileostomy with irrigation — The small intestine is brought through the abdominal wall, allowing stool to leave the body and liquid to flush out the infected colon
Proper hand-washing is the best way to prevent C. diff from spreading. Wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom. Other preventive methods include:
- Taking probiotics
- Using antibiotics as prescribed
- Cleaning with disinfectants, especially when people are sick
- Making sure any healthcare staff who comes in contact with you washes their hands first
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.