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Pseudomembranous colitis is a severe infection involving the large intestine or colon. The bacteria involved in the infection are called Clostridium difficile, bacteria that release a toxin that causes most of the symptoms of the disease.

It should be known that Clostridium difficile normally resides in the intestinal tract. It is kept in check by other bacteria that make the numbers of C. difficile quite small. If a person takes an antibiotic for whatever reason, the Clostridium difficile can take over and can cause overgrowth, toxin release and inflammation of the colon that then bleeds and develops a phenomenon known as pseudomembranes.

The most common antibiotics that cause pseudomembranous colitis include broad spectrum antibiotics such as ampicillin, penicillin, clindamycin and cephalosporins-common antibiotics used in children for ear infections and throat infections. It is fortunately a rare condition in infants under the age of twelve because they already have protective antibodies from maternal serum and breast milk. The toxin does not seem to cause harm in infants.

Pseudomembranous colitis is commonly a disease in hospitals because it can be passed from one person to another through improper hand washing and other contact with infected persons. The major risk factors of having the disease include being of an older age, using antibiotics, particularly broad spectrum antibiotics, being on chemotherapy, having recent surgery, particularly of the bowels, being on medications that are immunosuppressive and having had pseudomembranous colitis before.

The major symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis include those related to the toxin and those related to the actual infection. They include abdominal cramping pain, stools which are bloody in nature, a fever, frequent urges to have a bowel movement, and watery diarrhea, up to ten times per day.

Exams and tests for pseudomembranous colitis include a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy, which can directly look at the damage to the colon and the pseudomembranes. Biopsies and cultures can be taken at the time of the colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy. An immunoassay exists to detect the presence of the C. difficile toxin in stool samples.

Treatment of pseudomembranous colitis includes stopping the antibiotic, which may take care of the problem directly. Some people use metronidazole, vancomycin or rifaximin as antibiotics to treat the C. difficile infection. Intravenous fluids with electrolyte replacement are given to treat the loss of electrolytes in the diarrhea. Rarely is surgical treatment necessary to treat the infections that are not responsive to antibiotics or threaten the integrity of the colon wall.

The prognosis of pseudomembranous colitis is generally fairly good. Up to twenty percent of individuals, however, will have a second outbreak of the disease after treatment with antibiotics the first time around. Risk factors for recurrences are advanced age and severe disease the first time.

Complications of pseudomembranous colitis include severe dehydration with an imbalance of the electrolytes. Perforation of the colon is unlikely but can happen. A condition known as toxic megacolon, an enlarged and bloated colon, can occur as a complication of pseudomembranous colitis.

You should talk to a medical professional or go to the emergency room if you have bloody stools after taking antibiotics, have five or more episodes of diarrhoea per day for more than a day or two, if you have severe abdominal pain or if you have signs of dehydration, including a dry mouth, dry skin, lack of sweating, glassy and sunken eyes, depressed soft spot in infants, a rapid pulse or extreme fatigue.

You can prevent pseudomembranous colitis by not taking unnecessary antibiotics and not taking antibiotics for too long. If you have had pseudomembranous colitis in the past, you should let your doctor know so as to plan your treatment.

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Medical Negligence Solicitors

Our personal injury solicitors operate a specialist medical negligence compensation service. Our Pseudomembranous Colitis solicitors deal with claims using a no win no fee arrangement which means that if you don�t win then you don�t pay them their professional costs. If you would like legal advice at no cost with no further obligation just complete the contact form or email our lawyers offices or use the helpline and a Pseudomembranous Colitis solicitor will review your medical negligence compensation claim and phone you immediately.

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The author of the substantive medical writing on this website is Dr. Christine Traxler MD whose biography can be read here