Pseudomembranous Colitis

What is Pseudomembranous Colitis?

Pseudomembranous Colitis occurs when there is an overgrowth of the Clostridium difficile (C. diff) bacteria in the large intestine after you’ve been taking antibiotics for another condition. C. diff normally colonizes the large intestine, but it’s kept in check by the other naturally-occurring bacteria that also are present. Antibiotic use throws off the balance in the large intestine and allows C. diff to reproduce unchecked.

An overabundance of C. diff results in too much of a toxin that these bacteria can produce. This toxin causes the lining of the large intestine to become swollen and bleed.

Older people and those who have undergone surgery recently are more at risk of developing pseudomembranous colitis. As well, if you have taken certain antibiotics, you may be more likely to develop pseudomembranous colitis; penicillins and fluoroquinolones are among the drugs that tend to cause it.

What are the Symptoms of Pseudomembranous Colitis?

Symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis can develop just a day or two after you start taking an antibiotic, or up to a few weeks after you finish taking one. The C. diff imbalance happens at different times depending on your age and health.

If you have pseudomembranous colitis, you are likely to experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea and dehydration. You may also see blood or pus in your stool.

How is Pseudomembranous Colitis Treated?

If you have been taking an antibiotic and develop symptoms, your doctor may choose to switch the antibiotic you are taking. Metronidazole, fidaxomicin and some others are better able to kill off excess C. diff and reduce your symptoms.

Your doctor will also treat you for dehydration and any other issues you may have developed from your bout of pseudomembranous colitis.

For people with recurring and severe symptoms, a fecal microbial transplant could help. Your doctor will transplant some stool from a healthy donor into your intestine to help restore the bacterial balance. This can be given in a capsule or inserted directly into the intestinal tract.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
August 25, 2017
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