Pseudomembranous Colitis

Pseudomembranous colitis is an inflammatory disorder of the large intestine, also called the colon. It is connected with antibiotic use. When an individual is given an antibiotic to treat an infection, the bacteria in the bowel can be affected. Certain bacteria can flourish and cause the disease. Pseudomembranous colitis occurs more commonly in hospitalized and nursing home patients. Patients who have had recent surgery or are undergoing cancer treatments are at greater risk.

Symptoms of Your Diagnosis

Symptoms of Pseudomembranous colitis can include:

  • Diarrhea that is watery, foul smelling and sometimes bloody
  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Pus in the stool

The symptoms usually start 1-2 days after beginning antibiotics. However, many individuals do not have symptoms until after the antibiotics are stopped. If severe, symptoms of; shock, low blood pressure, a weak pulse, or an increased heart rate may be present.


Tests that are used to diagnose pseudomembranous colitis are:

  • A stool sample test – this will determine if the bacteria are present in your colon.
  • Blood tests – This may show a high white blood cell count.
  • Colon examination - A procedure where a lighted flexible instrument is inserted into the rectum to view the colon, called a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, can be done to look for the abnormal findings of this disease. Tissue samples are taken from the colon and sent for microscopic examination.
  • Imaging tests – An abdominal X-ray or CT scan may be given if symptoms are severe.


The key to treatment is stopping the offending antibiotic. If symptoms still persist, your health care provider may prescribe a specific antibiotic that will help allow the normal bacteria to grow back in your colon. If symptoms are severe, the drugs may be given intravenously, or with a tube that is inserted through the nose and guided to your stomach.

Things to Remember

  • Drink plenty of fluids such as water or watered-down fruit juice.
  • Eat soft, easy to digest foods like applesauce, rice or bananas.
  • Avoid high fiber foods such as nuts, beans and vegetables.
  • Eat several small meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid foods that irritate your stomach, such as spicy, fried or fatty foods.

When to Call Your Doctor

  • If you have loose stools, abdominal cramps or are becoming increasingly ill when taking or just finishing a course of antibiotics.
  • If symptoms do not resolve after 4 days of treatment.
  • If new symptoms appear during treatment.

What We Have Learned

The main cause of pseudomembranous colitis is the use of antibiotics.
True or False
The answer is True

Symptoms are usually headache and dizziness.
True or False
The answer is False

One treatment option is to stop taking the antibiotics that caused the symptoms.
True or False
The answer is True