Clostridium difficile (C diff) infection starts in the intestine and is caused by a specific bacteria. In some people, the infection causes symptoms, such as diarrhea. In others it can cause severe illness.
The infection is caused by the C diff bacterium. The bacterium makes toxins as it grows. These toxins irritate the intestinal lining, which can lead to swelling and pain.
The intestines normally have a healthy balance of bacteria that help with digestion. Antibiotics can disturb this balance by killing some bacteria which lets others grow in their place. If C diff is present, it may be able to grow after certain antibiotics.
C diff can also be picked up in the environment. The bacteria can pass from soiled surfaces to the hands, then to the mouth.
Factors that may increase the chances of infection include:
In those that have symptoms, they may include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A C diff diagnosis is based on your symptoms and test results.
Tests may include:
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. If needed, treatment may include:
Healthy stool bacteria from a donor is used. This restores a healthy balance of bacteria in the colon.
Severe or repeated infection may need treatment with surgery:
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:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
IDSA—Infections Diseases Society of America
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Public Health Agency of Canada
C. difficile care at home. C Diff Foundation website. Available at: https://cdifffoundation.org/2014/08/14/c-difficile-care-at-home. Accessed May 11, 2017.
Clostridium difficile infection. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114378/Clostridium-difficile-infection. Updated February 28, 2017. Accessed May 11, 2017.
Clostridium difficile infection information for patients. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hai/organisms/cdiff/cdiff-patient.html. Updated February 24, 2015. Accessed May 11, 2017.
Heinlen L, Ballard JD. Clostridium difficile infection. Am J Med Sci. 2010;340(3):247-252.
Kachrimanidou M, Malisiovas N. Clostridium difficile infection: a comprehensive review. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2011;37(3):178-187.
Winslow BR, Onysko M, Thompson KA, Caldwell K, Ehlers GH. Common questions about clostridium difficile infection. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(6):437-442.
Last reviewed August 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.