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C. Difficile Colitis

Colitis broadly describes irritation or inflammation of the colon. Just as a variety of GI conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) result in colitis, there are many different reasons for its development, including infection. C. difficile colitis (also known as C. diff) is an infectious GI disease that causes persistent diarrhea and potential damage to the colon. Typically brought on by antibiotic use ‒ as little as one dose ‒ this bacterial condition frequently develops in patients who have been hospitalized, undergone GI surgery and/or spent time in a long-term care facility. The elderly are most at risk for this sometimes life-threatening disease, especially for the severely ill. However; C. diff is also becoming an increasing problem amongst otherwise healthy individuals in the community. 

Most patients with C. difficile colitis respond well to medication to clear the initial infection and eliminate C. diff colitis symptoms. However, 25% of people will experience recurring infection that will put them at increased risk for additional episodes of this contagious disease. One recurrence alone will lead to a second one in 50% of patients. Up to 75% of those individuals will relapse and suffer yet another recurrence of C. difficile colitis that requires personalized care to cure it effectively.

Our highly skilled gastroenterologists and infectious disease experts work together to provide advanced C. diff treatment and management. NorthShore offers a high level of expertise not typically found at most medical centers. In fact, in 2010, we became the first in the Chicago area to offer an innovative treatment option known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) for patients with severe, recurring C. difficile disease.

Symptoms, Screening and Diagnosis of C. Difficile Colitis

Profuse bouts of watery diarrhea (greater than three times a day) are the hallmark of C. difficile colitis. Other C. diff colitis symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite

While occurring rarely, blood may appear in the stool of patients with C. difficile infection.

If you are experiencing persistent diarrhea and have very recently taken antibiotics and/or been hospitalized, your physician will ask for a stool sample to test for C. difficile colitis. At NorthShore, we use the latest stool tests available, including polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, to accurately and rapidly diagnose the condition.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with C. difficile colitis, your NorthShore gastroenterologist can determine the best course of action for your care. 

Treatment for C. Difficile Colitis

If an antibiotic triggered your C. difficile colitis, the first step in your C. diff treatment will be to stop taking the drug if possible.

The majority of patients experiencing C. difficile colitis for the first time can effectively be cured of the infection through prescription (oral) medications. If you suffer a second relapse of the disease, a more potent therapy may be advised.

For patients experiencing a third relapse of C. difficile colitis, your physician may recommend fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). NorthShore has helped to pioneer this highly effective outpatient C. diff treatment. The transplant of healthy donor stool is used to repopulate the intestine with C. difficile-fighting bacteria. This therapy offers, on average, a 90% cure rate. The first in our geography to offer FMT, we have achieved a 95% success rate in helping our patients overcome recurrent C. difficile colitis since introducing this advanced therapy.

Our FMT program offers several benefits:

  • Patient care provided by a collaborative team of experts experienced in C. diff treatment.
  • Availability of healthy anonymous donors (patients may also designate a donor of their choice).
  • Stool transplants vigorously screened for blood borne and stool pathogens, and donor transplant procurement and processing overseen by an infectious diseases specialist.
  • Transplant procedures performed by a board-certified gastroenterologist. 
  • Extensive follow-up care.

In most cases, only one fecal microbiota transplant is required for a cure. FMT is available at our Evanston Hospital GI Lab location.

For More Information

For more information on C. difficile colitis treatment and symptoms or to schedule an appointment with an IBD physician, please call 847.570.2903.

To see an infectious disease expert, who specializes in working with patients with C. difficile colitis, please call 847.657.5959.