Clostridioides difficile (also called C. diff) is a type of bacteria that can cause swelling and irritation of the large intestine. This can cause diarrhea, fever, and belly cramps.
Infection by C. diff is most common in people who are taking antibiotics or who took them in the past few weeks. It is also more likely in older people and people who are getting chemotherapy for cancer. Though the infection can be mild, it can become serious, especially for people who have a weak immune system.
The large intestine normally contains many good bacteria that keep it healthy and don’t cause disease. When you take an antibiotic to kill specific bacteria that are causing an illness, your antibiotic may also kill the good bacteria. This can allow C. diff bacteria to grow and release harmful toxins.
The inflammation of the large intestine, called colitis, is caused by these toxins. This is a serious infection that needs treatment. The toxins can also cause the colon to swell to many times its normal size. If that happens, it’s very serious and needs emergency treatment.
If you are still taking an antibiotic, your doctor may have you stop taking it because it may have led to the C. diff infection. Your doctor may then give you a different antibiotic that targets C. diff.
What are the symptoms of Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis?
Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis may cause:
- Diarrhea (may contain blood or pus).
- Abdominal (belly) cramps.
You also may have an abnormal heartbeat, especially if you become dehydrated.
Symptoms usually begin 4 to 10 days after you start taking antibiotics. But they might not start until a few weeks after you stop taking antibiotics.
Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) colitis: When to call
Call 911 if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have a fever over 101°F or shaking chills.
- You feel lightheaded or have a fast heart rate.
- You pass stools that are almost always bloody.
- You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and pass only a little urine.
- You have severe belly pain with or without bloating.
- You have severe vomiting and cannot keep down liquids.
- You are not passing any stools or gas.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:
- You do not get better as expected.