Warning Signs Of A C. Difficile Infection

November 22, 2023

A C. difficile infection is a digestive illness that occurs due to Clostridioides difficile bacteria. This illness occurs most often in older individuals in long-term care facilities and hospitals. It is also common after using antibiotics. C. difficile bacteria are present in the air, water, soil, feces, processed meat, and other food products. C. difficile bacteria colonize the large intestine and produce toxins that damage the lining. This damage causes the formation of plaque and the accumulation of decaying cellular debris that produces numerous symptoms indicative of a C. difficile infection.

C. difficile infection treatment involves a course of antibiotics and well as surgery. Individuals trying to cure a C. difficile infection will also take probiotics and may require intravenous fluids. Treatment to combat malnutrition may be necessary too. Some patients may need a fecal microbiota transplant to cure the infection.

Watery Diarrhea

Watery diarrhea describes when an individual has stools that contain a large amount of water and are very loose. This symptom becomes concerning when it occurs at least three times a day. Watery diarrhea can occur as a symptom of an infection by several different parasites, viruses, bacteria, and fungi. This includes a C. difficile infection. When watery diarrhea is caused by the colonization of a harmful pathogen in the digestive tract, it is typically accompanied by other symptoms. These signs include fever, cramping, appetite loss, vomiting, and nausea.

An individual dealing with a C. difficile infection tends to have watery diarrhea with an abnormally strong odor. This type of diarrhea that occurs at least three times a day for a minimum of two days can indicate a C. difficile infection that requires medical treatment to prevent dangerous complications.

Abdominal Cramps

When C. difficile bacteria gets into an individual's digestive system, it can begin to reproduce and colonize in these tissues. The bacteria invade the large intestinal lining and tissues as it grows. They cause extensive damage to the lining of the colon. This damage results in swelling and inflammation in the large intestine, which can progress into raw patches of tissue that produce pus and bleed. The nerves in the smooth muscle tissues that make up the intestines become irritated by the inflammation and swelling. The irritated nerves transmit pain signals to the brain, which causes patients to feel pain in their abdomen. The irritated nerves also induce the inappropriate and abnormal contraction of the smooth muscles that surround and form the organs of the digestive tract. This produces abdominal cramps.


There are several reasons why an individual may experience nausea, including several infections caused by countless types of viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Nausea occurs when some mechanism in an individual's body triggers the activation of a part of their brain referred to as the nausea center. An individual with a C. difficile infection in their digestive tract can experience an activation of their nausea center because it produces widespread inflammation. When the digestive tract becomes inflamed, the muscles around the organs can contract involuntarily. In addition, food can stagnate, and intestines can become obstructed. All of these mechanisms can activate the nausea center, which causes the patient to feel like they need to vomit.


When an individual becomes infected by C. difficile bacteria, they may experience a fever. A fever means their body temperature has increased above what is considered a normal and healthy level. When an individual's immune system detects a foreign pathogen in the body, it induces several changes to eliminate it. This includes an increase in the body temperature and dilation of the blood vessels.

A fever is meant to make the individual's body an inhospitable environment for the bacteria to keep it from reproducing and surviving. Upon detecting a foreign pathogen, the immune system sends signals to the brain that trigger action by the body's thermostat in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus increases the thermostat temperature, allowing the body to become warmer than it would otherwise. This mechanism occurs in patients with a C. difficile infection because their body is trying to eliminate the bacteria.

Blood In Stool

Blood in the stool is when an individual observes streaks of blood or dried up blood in their stool after elimination from their body. Individuals who have a C. difficile infection do not usually experience this symptom unless their infection goes untreated and becomes severe. The C. difficile bacteria that colonize the individual's large intestine cause the lining to become inflamed and compromised.

Further damage to the colon tissues ensues when the compromised linings allow food and other bacteria to enter deeper intestinal layers. This produces a more advanced degree of irritation and damage. These deeper layers contain the blood vessels that supply the lining of the large intestine with blood. Raw patches of tissue contain these blood vessels that have busted open or are severed. This allows blood to leak into the contents of the large intestine. The blood may have time to clot into a grainy, black texture before it is eliminated from the body. However, it can also appear as red streaks in the stool.

Loss Of Appetite

Diarrhea due to a C. difficile infection is caused by toxins released by the Clostridium Difficile bacteria that damage the large intestine. The damage to the large intestine most commonly manifests as ulcers or sores that cause pain when coming in contact with food when it moves through the digestive tract. An individual with a C. difficile infection may not want to eat because they feel the movement of food through their digestive tract is too painful. It is common for an individual affected by a C. difficile infection to only eat one meal a day or only eat foods that have been pureed or liquified. Because diarrhea is so frequent in these patients, they may be under the impression that consuming less food will reduce the frequency of painful bowel movements.

Weight Loss

The average healthy adult has between twenty and forty liters of water in their body at any given time. The mass of water is around two pounds per liter, making between forty and eighty pounds of an individual's body mass to be water weight. Water is lost from the body in several ways, including excessive urination, excessive sweating, and watery stools. A healthy individual only loses a fifth of a liter of fluid per day through the excretion of stool. An individual affected by a C. difficile infection has diarrhea between ten and fifteen times a day on average. This can equate to a loss of over ten pounds of body mass over just a few days. In addition, calories and glucose that healthy cells use to produce energy are also being used by the C. difficile bacteria that have colonized in an affected individual's large intestine. This mechanism causes the perpetuation of weight loss because the bacteria can cause an individual to have a negative energy balance.

Rapid Heart Rate

The abnormal amount of stool excretion in a patient with a C. difficile infection causes a significant net loss of water from their body. When water is lost from an individual's bloodstream, the overall blood volume is reduced. Reduced blood volume can cause a decrease in cardiac output, the quantity of oxygenated blood being pumped out of the heart. The body has a mechanism in place that helps ensure proper oxygenated blood flow to all parts of the body when the blood volume is low. The kidneys do their best to retain any fluid they can, which means patients will urinate less. If this mechanism is not effective at increasing an affected individual's blood volume, the brain speeds up the respiration and heart rate to compensate. A rapid heart rate is seen in any individual who has become dehydrated, regardless of the cause.

Kidney Failure

An individual affected by a C. difficile infection can lose a good amount of their blood volume because they are having between ten and fifteen episodes of diarrhea per day. The volume of the blood can become too low for the heart to compensate. When this happens, the blood cannot reach all parts of the body to provide the tissues with oxygen and other nutrients. The kidneys are one part of the body commonly affected by ischemia or lack of blood flow because of a hypovolemic state. This is a blood volume that is too low. The tissues of the kidney can become severely damaged and do not function properly when they do not receive enough oxygenated blood. When the kidneys are unable to filter the blood at an adequate rate or have lost at least half of their functionality, the individual is in kidney failure. Persistent and excessive diarrhea causes an individual with a C. difficile infection to develop sudden or acute kidney failure or injury. Depending on the extent of the kidney damage, it may be able to be reversed.

Increased White Blood Cell Count

An individual with a digestive tract infection caused by the colonization of C. difficile bacteria may experience an increased white blood cell count. Leukocytes, white blood cells, are an essential part of the immune system and make up approximately one percent of all blood cells. The total white blood cell count is increased in over half of all individuals diagnosed with a C. difficile infection. Several different types of white blood cells make up the immune system. They include monocytes, neutrophils, lymphocytes, basophils, and eosinophils. Individuals with a C. difficile infection usually present with an elevated white blood cell count because of an increase in the number of neutrophils in their blood. Any individual who presents with other symptoms of a C. difficile infection along with a white blood cell count between 15,000 and 20,000 per cubic millimeter is suspected of having this infection.

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