What Is Pseudomembranous Enterocolitis?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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Pseudomembranous enterocolitis is a bacterial infection in the lining of the colon, commonly caused by a disruption in the normal flora in the gut. It is linked to antibiotic use and typically occurs in hospitals, where it spreads among patients. Pseudomembranous enterocolitis inflames the bowel and leads to the formation of yellowish plaque, prompting foul-smelling, watery diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. If left untreated, this infection might lead to perforation of the colon.

Patients with pseudomembranous enterocolitis often become seriously dehydrated because they lose so much fluid from diarrhea. Electrolytes might also become unbalanced, leading to shock. In severe cases, fever might reach dangerously high levels, and the abdomen may become quite firm, hurting when pressure is applied. Doctors typically order intravenous fluids to rehydrate the body in serious cases. People with mild bouts might notice loose stools for several days and few other symptoms.

Pseudomembranous enterocolitis is linked to Clostridium difficile, a spore-forming bacterium that flourishes when normal conditions of the colon change. Antibiotic use might destroy healthy bacteria that regulate the production of Clostridium difficile. This bacterium produces toxins that attach to mucus membranes in the gut. In chronic cases, the toxins may invade intestinal tissue and cause death.


Hospital patients face an increased risk for the disorder, especially those in intensive care units and the elderly. Patients needing abdominal surgery, including cesarean childbirth, become more susceptible to infection. Cancer patients also face risks of pseudomembranous enterocolitis because chemotherapy treatment might hinder their bodies’ ability to fight infection. Clostridium difficile spores survive on objects for months and can be passed to patients by healthcare professionals who do not wash their hands.

Treatment for the disease usually requires switching to a different antibiotic and prescribing antimicrobial medication. The use of anti-diarrheal drugs is not recommended because they might prolong the disorder and cause colon damage. In extreme cases, surgery to resection the infected bowel might be necessary to save a patient’s life. If danger of perforation of the colon exists, a colostomy is one treatment option.

Prevention strategies include limited use of antibiotics to avoid disrupting healthy bacteria in the colon. Hospital workers who wash their hands often and use gloves when examining patients can prevent spread of the disease, especially after contact with bodily secretions. Some hospitals isolate pseudomembranous enterocolitis patients from those susceptible to infection. Objects and instruments that contain infectious spores should be sterilized after use.


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