What Is C. Diff?

by Nancy

C. diff. or Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that often causes a series of symptoms in the colon. These symptoms can be minor, such as diarrhea, or major, such as life-threatening colon inflammation. C. diff typically affects older adults with prolonged hospital stays or resident of long-term care facilities, and often occurs after the use of antibiotic medications.

Recent studies, however, have shown a worrisome trend of increasing C. diff rates among people generally considered to be low risk, such as young adults who maintain healthy and active lifestyles, or those who do not have a history of antibiotic use. Throughout the U.S. about 500,000 people fall ill from C. diff, and alarmingly, the infections have become increasingly frequent and increased in severity.

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The common symptoms of C. Diff to be on the lookout for are:

  • Watery diarrhea (especially if occurring three or more times a day).
  • Abdominal cramping or tenderness, ranging from mild to severe.

If you are suffering from a severe case of C. diff you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Watery diarrhea, up to 15 times a day.
  • Fever
  • Blood/ Pus in stool
  • Weight loss
  • Swollen Abdomen
  • Dehydration
  • Rapid Heart rate
  • Kidney Failure

If you experience any or all of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.

Causes of C. Diff

So what actually causes C. diff? C. diff bacteria are found pretty much everywhere. The soil, air, and water contain C. diff bacterium. Human and animal feces, and some foods can also carry C. diff bacteria. C. diff typically becomes a problem after taking antibiotics which kill a large amount of helpful bacteria in the gut, allowing the C. diff bacteria to multiply and spread. When C. diff spreads and gets a footing in your system it begins to produce a series of toxins that attack and harm the lining of your intestines. There is a new strain of C. diff that occurs in people who have not taken antibiotics. This strain is more virulent, and produces more toxins.

Preventing C. Diff

The easiest way to prevent C. diff is thorough washing of the hands, and frequent use of alcohol based hand sanitizers. Frequent cleaning of surfaces that are handled often can also help prevent C. diff. Avoiding unnecessary anti-biotics use will also help reduce the chances of C. diff. If your doctor finds that you have C. diff there are a few treatments they might recommend, although the first step is almost always to ask about current anti-biotic medication and stop taking it. As C. diff itself is a bacterium the next stage in any treatment plan is usually anti-biotics.

These anti-biotics target the C. diff bacterium itself. The anti-biotics commonly prescribed are metronidazole, vancomycin, or fidaxomicin. The final treatment option is surgery. This is only undertaken in extreme cases where the only option left is to remove the diseased portion of the colon.