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Clostridium Difficile Infection
What you need to know about a Clostridium difficile infection (CDI):
Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, are bacteria. Many types of bacteria live inside your colon in a healthy balance. If C. diff bacteria grow rapidly, the balance is lost. This can lead to infection. Antibiotic use is the most common cause of CDI. Antibiotics may upset the normal balance of bacteria in the colon. The bowel movement of a person with a CDI contains C. diff. infected people who do not wash their hands after having a bowel movement can spread C. diff. The bacteria can live a long time on surfaces you touch, such as the tops of tables.
Signs and symptoms of a CDI:
- Diarrhea several times each day
- Foul-smelling diarrhea
- Blood, mucus, or pus in your bowel movements
- Dehydration from diarrhea
- Nausea or vomiting
- Cramps in your abdomen
- A fever
Seek care immediately if:
- You have a fever and stomach cramps that get worse, or do not go away.
- Your abdomen is hard or feels swollen.
- You have black or bright red bowel movements.
- You vomit blood.
- You are short of breath, or feel like you are going to faint.
- You have any of the following signs of dehydration:
- Dizziness or weakness, or extreme sleepiness.
- Dry mouth, cracked lips, or you feel very thirsty
- Fast heartbeat or rapid breathing
- Very little urine or no urine
- Sunken eyes
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have a fever.
- Your signs and symptoms get worse.
- Your signs and symptoms do not go away, or they come back, even after treatment.
- You cannot eat or drink.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
The goal of treatment is to restore the healthy balance of bacteria to your colon. This should help stop your diarrhea. You may need the following:
- Antibiotics help treat or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. If antibiotics caused your CDI, you may need to stop taking them and switch to a different antibiotic.
- Surgery may be needed if your CDI is severe or damaged your colon. During surgery, part of your colon is removed.
What you can do to manage or prevent a CDI:
- Wash your hands often. Wash your hands often with germ-killing soap and warm, running water. Alcohol-based hand rubs do not kill C. diff. Always wash your hands well after you use the toilet, diaper a child, and before you prepare or serve food. Tell anyone who touches you to wear gloves and wash their hands.
- Clean surfaces with bleach. Clean tabletops, desks, and other surfaces before anyone else touches or uses them. Clean with chlorine-based disinfectants, such as household bleach.
- Prevent the spread of C. diff. Do not share any items with other people. Use as many disposable items as you can, such as paper plates. Do this until your diarrhea has stopped.
- Ask about probiotics. Probiotics are also called good bacteria. They can help protect you from harmful bacteria. If you develop more than one CDI, probiotics may help prevent more infections. Ask your healthcare provider if probiotics are right for you. You may be able to eat yogurt or other foods high in probiotics. Your provider may instead recommend a pill or liquid form.
- Drink more liquids to prevent dehydration. You may also drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of water, salts, and sugar needed to replace body fluids. Ask your healthcare provider where to buy ORS and how much to drink.
What you need to know about correct antibiotic use:
- Take your antibiotic as directed. Do not skip a dose of your antibiotic. Do not stop taking your antibiotic, even if you feel better. Finish the entire dose of your antibiotic unless your healthcare provider tells you to stop.
- Get rid of any antibiotics you did not use. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist how to get rid of antibiotics. Do not share your antibiotic with another person. Do not take an antibiotic from another illness without talking to your healthcare provider.
- Prevent infections caused by bacteria. This will help prevent your need for an antibiotic. Ask about vaccines that you need. Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of infection.
- Ask your healthcare provider how to manage your symptoms without antibiotics. Your healthcare provider can recommend other treatments based on your illness. An example includes over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs.
Follow up with your healthcare provider within 1 to 2 days:
You may need to have an antibiotic changed if it caused your CDI. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.