C diff refers to a bacterium known as Clostridium difficile, which is found in several environments, including feces, water, food products, and soil. While it’s possible to have C. diff in the large intestine on a regular basis and not show signs of illness, this only occurs in a small number of people. In most people, accidentally being exposed to C. diff can lead to a bacterial infection that ranges from mild to life-threatening.
Symptoms of C. Diff
People with a mild or moderate C. diff infection might have watery diarrhea a few times a day, as well as mild cramping in the abdominal area. Those with a severe infection might experience the following symptoms:
- Watery diarrhea several times a day
- Dehydration caused by frequent diarrhea
- Moderate to severe abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody stool or stool with pus caused by raw tissue patches that form when the colon becomes inflamed
- Appetite loss
- Abdominal swelling
- Weight loss
Inflammation of the colon, or colitis, that occurs due to a severe C. diff infection can lead to serious complications if not treated in a timely and appropriate manner.
Causes of C Diff
C diff infections occur when people come into contact with contaminated food or surfaces. Healthy bacteria in the intestine can normally prevent C. diff from multiplying and spreading. When there aren’t enough healthy bacteria around, C. diff is able to spread rapidly and cause an infection. C. diff toxins damage the lining in the large intestine, resulting in diarrhea and inflammation in some cases.
Anyone can get a C. diff infection, but the risks of getting one are higher in some situations or for people with certain conditions. Risk factors for infection include the following:
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics destroy both good and bad bacteria in order to fight an infection. When the amount of healthy bacteria decreases, a C. diff infection is more likely to occur.
- Healthcare facilities: C. diff easily spreads on several surfaces in hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. It can also spread from person to person in these types of settings.
- Serious illnesses: People with certain types of illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease or compromised immune systems due to medical conditions, have a higher risk of having a C. Diff infection.
- Surgery: People who have had a gastrointestinal procedure done or abdominal surgery have an increased risk of an infection from C. diff.
- Age: Those who are 65 years old and up have a higher chance of having a C. diff infection.
- Until recently, C. diff was felt to be acquired at a hospital or by recent antibiotic use but an increasing number of cases have been shown to be “community-acquired”, without the above risk factors. So an index of suspicion and accurate testing is necessary to get an accurate diagnosis.
The standard course of treatment for a C. diff infection is an antibiotic that prevents this bacteria from growing. Those who are already taking other kinds of antibiotics should stop doing so, if possible. Doctors typically prescribe stronger antibiotics for those with severe C. diff infections.
Surgery is sometimes done for those who suffer from severe pain or those who have developed colitis. Surgery to remove the affected part of the colon is also done sometimes in severe cases that involve organ failure.
There are several ways to prevent or lower the risk of having a C. diff infection. Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to do so, especially in healthcare settings.
Other ways to prevent this type of infection include thoroughly cleaning surfaces with bleach, avoiding taking antibiotics unnecessarily and avoiding contact with those who have an infection.
In some cases, C. diff may recur after treatment. In such cases, another course of the same antibiotic given in the first instance, or, depending on the severity of symptoms, a different antibiotic may be needed. Refractory cases need newer therapies and consultation with a gastroenterologist is appropriate for such patients. We also recommend a special taper that was advised by experts to prevent a recurrence.
If you experience recurring C. diff infections, please contact your nearest GI Alliance location.