What Are the Different Pseudomembranous Colitis Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2018
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Symptoms of pseudomembranous colitis include diarrhea, bloody and mucous-tainted stool, and abdominal cramping. The condition can also cause a sudden fecal urgency. If left untreated, the pseudomembranous colitis symptoms will be related to dehydration of the patient, causing feelings of exhaustion, thirst, and eventually dizziness. Pseudomembranous colitis is caused when a course of antibiotics disturbs the normal balance of good bacteria in the intestine. This condition is relieved by using a different antibiotic and rehydrating the patient.

Pseudomembranous colitis occurs after a course of antibiotics. Most people have a noxious but dormant bacterium living in their intestine called Clostridium difficile. The proliferation of this bacterium is normally controlled by the healthy bacteria colonizing the gut. Treatment with antibiotics will often disrupt the natural balance of bacteria flora in the gut, allowing Clostridium difficile to dominate.

Clostridium difficile produces toxic waste products that can interfere with the dissolution of carbohydrates. It is difficult for the intestine to absorb water from stool concentrated with carbohydrates. As a result, one of the first pseudomembranous colitis symptoms is moderate to severe diarrhea that does not abate. The urge to go to the bathroom may also be sudden and urgent. Diarrhea typically begins anywhere from two days to two weeks after the antibiotic has been started.


The toxic waste produced by Clostridium difficile can also irritate the lining of the colon, causing ulcers to form and the tissue lining to swell. The ulcers can leak blood into the stool while the inflammatory response can produce mucous that also gets passed with the stool. As a result, one of the secondary pseudomembranous colitis symptoms noticed by a patient is bloody and mucous-laced stool.

Diarrhea and irritation to the intestinal lining can create intense abdominal cramping, which is at its worse right before the need to use the bathroom. Some patients experience temporary relief from the pain just after using the toilet and then the pain will gradually build again. These intestinal pseudomembranous colitis symptoms are often closely followed by a fever, headache, and a general feeling of lethargy. As the diarrhea continues, the body will become dehydrated, causing fatigue, dry mouth, and thirst. If the dehydration is not treated, the patient may become dizzy.

This form of colitis is treated by first stopping the antibiotic or switching to a different antibiotic if the course has not been completed. If the antibiotic course has been completed, the patient may be treated with either vancomycin or metronidazole, antibiotics that can destroy the Clostridium difficile outbreak. The patient is also usually rehydrated with fluid and electrolyte therapy.



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