Diagnosing Clostridium Difficile Infections

Infections with Clostridium difficile typically occur in people taking antibiotics or those who have recently taken them. Symptoms include watery diarrhea, cramping and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and fever.

Diarrhea is typically frequent; you may have 3 or more bouts in a 24-hour period. If you develop diarrhea within a few days of being admitted to or released from a hospital or healthcare facility, or within two months of taking an antibiotic, see your doctor.

To diagnose a C. difficile infection, your NYU Langone doctor takes a medical history and asks about any medications you are taking. He or she may also order one or several tests, depending on your symptoms, medical history, and whether you are currently in a hospital or healthcare facility or have recently been released from one.

Stool Test

The simplest way to detect C. difficile is through a stool test, in which you provide a sample in a sterile container given to you at your doctor’s office or a lab. A pathologist, a doctor who studies diseases in a laboratory, determines whether the sample has signs of C. difficile.

Blood Test

A blood test can reveal high levels of white blood cells, a sign of infection. Very high levels can signify a more severe C. difficile infection, in which a person may have watery diarrhea, intense stomach cramps, and dehydration.

Colonoscopy or Sigmoidoscopy

If you have severe symptoms of C. difficile, a doctor may examine the colon using a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy. In both procedures, a thin, flexible tube with a light on the end is inserted through the rectum, allowing a doctor to view the colon.

A colonoscopy enables a doctor to examine the entire colon and rectum, whereas a sigmoidoscopy allows him or her to view only the rectum and the lower part of the colon.

These tests can indicate whether inflammation is present, indicating a C. difficile infection. They also allow a doctor to take tissue samples, if necessary, to further test for infection.

CT Scan

A CT scan uses X-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional, cross-sectional images of the body. If a doctor suspects you have a complication of C. difficile infection, such as a hole in the intestines, he or she may order a CT scan. Your doctor may give you a contrast agent before the scan to enhance the images. It can be taken by mouth or as an injection into a vein.

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