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Pseudomembranous Entercolitis: Facts and Treatment

  • Synopsis: Published: 2009-06-26 (Rev. 2017-02-17) - Pseudomembranous Colitis involves an infection of the persons large intestine with an overgrowth of the Clostridium Difficile Bacteria. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss at Disabled World.

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Quote: "Diagnosis of pseudomembranous colitis involves a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy, or an immunoassay for C Difficile toxin. The results of these tests gives a doctor the information needed in order to make a diagnosis."

Pseudomembranous Colitis Definition

The diarrhea persons experience secondary to antimicrobials may be classified into four different categories; they are classified according to the basis of the changes which happen in the person's colon. One of the changes produces pseudomembrane formation of the wall of the person's large intestine. Perhaps the most characteristic form of antibiotic-associated colitis produced by clostridia difficile is, 'Pseudomembranous Colitis,' which results in inflammation, as well as tissue death of the lining membrane and the deeper layers of the person's intestine. This usually happens within four to ten days after the start of antibiotic therapy; however, nearly one-fourth of persons develop the disorder once their antibiotic therapy has ceased. Persons who are severely ill with the disorder experience a nearly thirty-percent mortality rate. Other names for Pseudomembranous Colitis include, 'Antibiotic-associated Colitis and Necrotizing Colitis.


Pseudomembranous Colitis related to the use of antibiotics is caused by toxins which are produced by the bacterium Clostridium Difficile. Any antibiotic can cause the syndrome to happen, to include antibiotics that have been used in order to treat the disease such as Metronidazole or Vancomycin.

Pseudomembranous Colitis happens more often with antibiotics such as penicillins, clindamycin, or cephalosporins. Medical science does not fully understand the exact causes of pseudomembranous colitis. What is known is that there are additional factors involved along with the release of the toxin from the bacteria that causes it.

The Clostridium Difficile bacteria is usually present in a persons intestine; however, it might overgrow when someone takes antibiotics. The bacteria releases a powerful toxin which then causes the symptoms the person experiences. The lining of their colon bleeds and becomes inflamed, taking on a characteristic appearance referred to as, 'pseudomembranes.'

Antibiotics such as clindamycin, cephalosporins, and ampicillin are antibiotics that are commonly associated with this disease when it is found in children. Pseudomembranous colitis is rare in infants who are under the age of twelve months because they have received protective antibodies from their mother; the toxins also do not cause this disease in most infants.

The majority of persons who experience pseudomembranous colitis get the disease when they are in the hospital because the bacteria may spread from one person to another. The risk factors for this disease include:

  • Personal history of pseudomembranous colitis
  • Medications that suppress the immune system
  • Recent surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Advanced age
  • Antibiotic use


The symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis can start while the person is going through antibiotic therapy, or may begin shortly after the therapy has ceased. The symptoms the person may experience include diarrhea that is both voluminous and water. The majority of persons experience abdominal cramps and tenderness.

Fortunately, the disease can be relatively mild, and resolve after the person stops antibiotic therapy. At times the disease can also be severe though, causing the person to produce large amounts of diarrhea for a period of up to eight weeks. For persons who experience severe symptoms, electrolyte disturbances and dehydration are common. The symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis can include:

  • Urge to have a bowel movement
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Watery diarrhea
  • Bloody stools
  • Fever

Diagnosis of pseudomembranous colitis involves a colonoscopy, a sigmoidoscopy, or an immunoassay for C Difficile toxin. The results of these tests gives a doctor the information needed in order to make a diagnosis.


Treatment for pseudomembranous colitis involves stopping the antibiotic or other medication that is causing it. Medications such as Vancomycin, Rifaximin, or Metranidazole are commonly used to treat this disorder. Intravenous electrolyte solutions or fluids may be administered in order to treat dehydration caused by diarrhea. In rare circumstances, surgery may be required to treat infections which worsen, or do not respond to antibiotics. If the person affected does not experience any complications the outlook is usually good. Approximately twenty-percent of persons with the infection experience a recurrence that needs additional treatment. Complications that can occur include:

  • Dehydration with electrolyte imbalance
  • Perforation of (hole through) the colon
  • Toxic megacolon

Related Information:

  1. Clostridium Difficile: Infection Symptoms and Treatment Information - Information regarding Clostridium difficile, also known as C. difficile or simply C. diff, a bacteria with symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon - Disabled World
  2. Decreasing Unnecessary Antibiotic Use - Following an outbreak of Clostridium difficile infections health care professionals in Quebec targeted physicians and pharmacists with an education campaign that reduced outpatient antibiotic use - Infectious Diseases Society of America
  3. Good Clostridia in the Gut Protect from Allergy and Autoimmunity - Specific gut-dwelling bacteria control key immune cells that combat allergies and autoimmune diseases - Vedanta Biosciences

Information from our Gastrointestinal: Disorders, Facts & Information section - (Full List).

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