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Patient education: C. difficile infection (The Basics)

Patient education: C. difficile infection (The Basics)

What is C. difficile infection? — C. difficile infection is an infection caused by bacteria called "C. difficile" (or "C. diff" for short). C. difficile normally lives in the intestines (figure 1).

When a person is taking antibiotics, the C. difficile in their intestines can overgrow and cause symptoms. But people can get C. difficile infection even if they don't take antibiotics. They can get infected if they touch infected people or surfaces and then don't wash their hands.

What are the symptoms of C. difficile infection? — The most common symptoms are:

Watery diarrhea (3 or more bowel movements a day for 2 or more days)

Mild belly cramps

People can also have more severe symptoms, such as:

Blood or pus in their bowel movements


Belly pain, nausea, or loss of appetite

Dehydration – This is when the body loses too much water. It can cause people to have dark yellow urine and feel thirsty, tired, dizzy, or confused.

Sometimes, people have C. difficile infection but don't have any symptoms. These people can still spread the infection to others.

Is there a test for C. difficile infection? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse can test you for C. difficile infection by doing tests on a sample of your bowel movement.

Is there anything I can do on my own to get better? — Yes. To help yourself get better, you can:

Drink a lot of liquids that have water, salt, and sugar. Good choices are water mixed with juice, sports drinks, and soup broth. If you are drinking enough, your urine will be light yellow or almost clear.

Try to eat a little food. Good choices are potatoes, noodles, rice, oatmeal, crackers, bananas, soup, and boiled vegetables.

Ask your doctor if you should take "probiotics." Probiotics are bacteria that are good for the intestines.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if you have:

Many runny or watery bowel movements in a day

Blood or pus in your diarrhea


Severe belly pain or a swollen belly


You should also see your doctor or nurse if you have any of the symptoms of dehydration listed above.

How is C. difficile treated? — If you are taking an antibiotic, your doctor might stop it or switch you to another antibiotic.

They will also treat your C. difficile infection with medicines. If your symptoms are severe, you might need to be treated in the hospital.

Can C. difficile infection be prevented? — Sometimes. To help reduce your chances of catching or spreading C. difficile infection, you can:

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after you use the bathroom and before you eat. Do not rely on alcohol-based hand rubs, because they have not been proven to prevent the spread of C. difficile.

Follow the rules about washing hands and wearing gloves if you visit someone in the hospital who has C. difficile infection

Stay home from work and school until you stop having diarrhea

Do not cook food for others while you have diarrhea

Take extra care while cleaning:

You can use a bleach-based cleaner or make your own by mixing 1 cup (240 mL) bleach with 10 cups (2365 mL) of water to clean any hard surfaces in your home

Clean the bathroom last, after you clean the other spaces in your home

Be sure to clean doorknobs and the flushing handle on your toilet

Use paper towels when cleaning

Wash towels, bath mats, rugs, and shower curtains often. Add bleach if possible.

Wash and dry clothes on hottest setting possible

If you are in the hospital and have C. difficile, your doctors and nurses will wear special gowns and gloves when they are in your room. This is to prevent passing the infection on to other patients.

What happens if my diarrhea comes back? — If your diarrhea comes back after treatment, let your doctor or nurse know. They will probably use medicines to treat it again. But you might need to take the medicines for longer.

You might also have heard of a treatment called "fecal transplant." This involves transplanting bowel movements (called "feces") from a healthy person into your intestine. It is often done in the hospital or doctor's office. This might be an option if your diarrhea keeps coming back and medicines don't help.

More on this topic

Patient education: Diarrhea in adolescents and adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Diarrhea in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Coping with high drug prices (The Basics)

Patient education: Antibiotic-associated diarrhea caused by Clostridioides difficile (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Acute diarrhea in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Acute diarrhea in children (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jan 01, 2023.
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