Clinical review of the management of fulminant clostridium difficile infection.
ABSTRACT Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality among elderly hospitalized patients. A small but increasing number of patients have developed fulminant CDI, and a significant number of these patients require emergency colectomy. In this review, we discuss the risk factors, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of fulminant CDI.
A literature search (Medline, Embase, Cochrane Library, Biosis, Science Citation Index, Ovid Journals) was performed from the period between January 1980 and June 2008 using the key words "Clostridium difficile,"pseudomembranous enterocolitis,"colectomy,"acute abdomen,"antibiotic-associated diarrhea," or "fulminant Clostridium difficile colitis." Articles not in English or not related to human subjects were excluded. For this review, we analyzed the articles identified in our original search and those articles cited in the original review articles. No randomized trials were found on the surgical management of fulminant CDI and only retrospective studies with a minimum of five patients were used in the review. With respect to medical treatment, we based our review on guideline articles, systematic reviews, and available randomized trials.
Both the incidence and severity of CDI are increasing. Fulminant CDI is underappreciated as a life-threatening disease because of a lack of awareness of its severity and its nonspecific clinical syndrome. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a good outcome, and early surgical intervention should be used in patients who are unresponsive to medical therapy. The surgical procedure of choice is a total abdominal colectomy with end ileostomy, although the mortality rate remains high.
Article: Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea and colitis: clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: This review examines the pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and current medical and operative strategies in the treatment of Clostridium difficile diarrhea and colitis. Prevention and future avenues of research are also investigated. A review of the literature was conducted with the use of MEDLINE. C. difficile is a gram-positive, spore-forming bacterium capable of causing toxigenic colitis in susceptible patients, usually those receiving antibiotics. Overgrowth of toxigenic strains may result in a spectrum of disease, including becoming an asymptomatic carrier, diarrhea, self-limited colitis, fulminant colitis, and toxic megacolon. Diagnosis requires a high index of suspicion and depends on clinical data, laboratory stool studies (enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay and cytotoxin test), and endoscopy in selected cases. Protocols for treatment of primary and relapsing infections are provided in algorithm format. Discontinuation of antibiotics may be enough to resolve symptoms. Medical management with oral metronidazole or vancomycin is the first-line therapy for those with symptomatic colitis. Teicoplanin, Saccharomyces spp. and Lactobacillus spp., and intravenous IgG antitoxin are reserved for more recalcitrant cases. Refractory or relapsing infections may require vancomycin given orally or other newer modalities. Fulminant colitis and toxic megacolon warrant subtotal colectomy. Cost, in terms of extended hospital stay, medical and surgical management, and, in some cases, ward closure, is thought to be formidable. Review of perioperative antibiotic policies and analysis of hospital formularies may contribute to prevention and decreased costs. C. difficile diarrhea and colitis is a nosocomial infection that may result in significant morbidity, mortality, and medical costs. Standard laboratory studies and endoscopic evaluation assist in the diagnosis of clinically suspicious cases. Appropriate perioperative antibiotic dosing, narrowing the antibiotic spectrum when treating infections, and discontinuing antibiotics at appropriate intervals prevent toxic sequelae.Diseases of the Colon & Rectum 12/1998; 41(11):1435-49. · 3.13 Impact Factor
[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: Reports of fatality related to Clostridium difficile colitis and a sharp increase in prevalence of this infection prompted a study of patients who develop a more aggressive form of this disease. Over 38 months, 710 patients at our institution developed C. difficile colitis. Twenty-one (3 percent) of these patients either required intensive care unit admission or died as a result of their infection. A retrospective, case-controlled study was undertaken to compare these patients, who were considered to have severe C. difficile colitis, with the remaining patients with milder disease. Factors that predisposed to the development of severe C. difficile colitis included intercurrent malignancy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, immunosuppressive and antiperistaltic medications, renal failure, and administration of clindamycin (P < 0.05 for all). Patients with severe C. difficile colitis were more likely to have abdominal pain, tenderness and distention, peritonitis, hemoconcentration (> 5 points), hypoalbuminemia (< 3 mg/dl), and elevated or suppressed white blood cell count (> 25,000; < 1,500; P < 0.05 for all). These factors were used to create a scoring system that could distinguish between patients with severe C. difficile colitis and those with mild disease. Thirteen patients in the late stages of terminal illness with metastatic malignancy or age > 90 were considered poor or inappropriate surgical candidates. Only the remaining eight patients could have potentially recovered from operation with hope for long-term survival. Of these, seven were treated without colonic resection, and six of the seven survived, whereas one patient underwent colectomy and did not survive. Patients with severe C. difficile colitis can be readily identified. Often they have coexisting illness that precludes operation. In this series, only 1 of 21 patients with severe C. difficile might have benefited from an aggressive surgical approach.Diseases of the Colon & Rectum 04/1995; 38(4):350-4. · 3.13 Impact Factor
Article: Diarrhoea in the critically ill.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The purpose of this review is to update the knowledge on diarrhoea, a common problem in critically ill patients. Epidemiological data will be discussed, with special emphasis on diarrhoea in tube-fed patients and during antibiotic therapy. The possible preventive and therapeutic measures will be presented. The need for concise definitions of diarrhoea was recently re-emphasized. The use of pump-driven continuous instead of intermittent enteral feeding is less often associated with diarrhoea. The discontinuation of enteral feeding during diarrhoea is not justified. Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea is frequent during antibiotic therapy with quinolones and cephalosporins. Formulas enriched with water-soluble fibres are probably effective to prevent diarrhoea, and promising data on the modulation of gut microflora with probiotics and prebiotics were recently released. Diarrhoea is common in critically ill patients, especially when sepsis and hypoalbuminaemia are present, and during enteral feeding and antibiotic therapy. The management of diarrhoea includes generous hydration, compensation for the loss of electrolytes, antidiarrheal oral medications, the continuation of enteral feeding, and metronidazole or glycopeptides in the case of moderate to severe C. difficile colitis. The place of enteral formulas enriched with water-soluble fibres, probiotics and prebiotics is not yet fully defined.Current Opinion in Critical Care 05/2006; 12(2):149-54. · 2.51 Impact Factor
American Journal of Gastroenterology
C ?2008 by Am. Coll. of Gastroenterology
Published by Blackwell Publishing
Clinical Review of the Management of Fulminant
Clostridium difficile Infection
M. Raffat Jaber, M.D.,1Snorri Olafsson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.,2Wesley L. Fung, M.D.,3and
Mark E. Reeves, M.D., Ph.D.3
1Department of Surgery and Department of Medicine;2Division of Gastroenterology and Department of
Medicine; and3Department of Surgery, Loma Linda University Medical Center, Loma Linda, California
BACKGROUND:Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is a frequent cause of morbidity and mortality among elderly
hospitalized patients. A small but increasing number of patients have developed fulminant CDI, and
a significant number of these patients require emergency colectomy. In this review, we discuss the
risk factors, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of fulminant CDI.
A literature search (Medline, Embase, Cochrane Library, Biosis, Science Citation Index, Ovid
Journals) was performed from the period between January 1980 and June 2008 using the key
words “Clostridium difficile,” “pseudomembranous enterocolitis,” “colectomy,” “acute abdomen,”
“antibiotic-associated diarrhea,” or “fulminant Clostridium difficile colitis.” Articles not in English or
not related to human subjects were excluded. For this review, we analyzed the articles identified in
our original search and those articles cited in the original review articles. No randomized trials were
found on the surgical management of fulminant CDI and only retrospective studies with a
minimum of five patients were used in the review. With respect to medical treatment, we based our
review on guideline articles, systematic reviews, and available randomized trials.
Both the incidence and severity of CDI are increasing. Fulminant CDI is underappreciated as a
life-threatening disease because of a lack of awareness of its severity and its nonspecific clinical
syndrome. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for a good outcome, and early surgical
intervention should be used in patients who are unresponsive to medical therapy. The surgical
procedure of choice is a total abdominal colectomy with end ileostomy, although the mortality rate
(Am J Gastroenterol 2008;103:3195–3203)
Clostridium difficile infection (CDI) is one of the most com-
mon nosocomial infections and a frequent cause of morbid-
ity and mortality among elderly hospitalized patients (1).
Approximately 3 to 8% of CDI patients develop fulminant
disease, defined as patients whose course is complicated by
perforation, severe ileus with toxic megacolon, hypotension
requiring pressors, or refractory septicemia. A significant
number of these patients require emergency colectomy (2).
In this review, we discuss the risk factors, pathophysiology,
diagnosis, and management of fulminant CDI.
CDI is the most common cause of nosocomial infectious di-
arrhea in adults (3). Both the frequency and severity of CDI
Canada, noted an increase in the frequency and severity of
CDI (6, 7, 10–13). Pepin et al. (6) reported that the incidence
To access a continuing medical education exam for this article, please visit
between 1991 and 2003, and the proportion of patients who
died within 30 days after diagnosis increased from 4.7% in
1991 to 13.8% in 2003. The incidence of CDI in patients
aged 65 yr or older increased tenfold between 1991 and 2003
(6, 11). The disease seems to be more serious and refrac-
tory to therapy than it was in the past according to multiple
reports, as indicated by increased rates of toxic megacolon,
need for colectomy, associated shock, or death (6, 10–12).
The increase in mortality attributed to CDI was 16.7% be-
tween 2003 and 2004 alone (6, 11). Among those admitted
to the hospital in the region, the incidence increased from 3
to 12 per 1,000 persons between 1991 and 2002 and from
25 to 43 per 1,000 persons between 2003 and 2004 (6). A
recent retrospective observational cohort study from Quebec
(12) reported 165 cases of CDI that necessitated admission
to the intensive care unit (ICU) or prolongation of ICU stay
165 patients, 38 patients required an emergency colectomy.
Generally, the disease was more frequent, more severe, more
complications: age older than 65 yr, leukocyte count higher
than 20 × 109cells/L, acquisition of infection in a hospital,
3196 Jaber et al.
renal failure, and immunosuppression (6). In the United
States, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention re-
ported an increasing frequency and severity of CDI based on
reports from U.S. physicians. In addition, a review by Mc-
Donald et al. (9) of the International Classification of Dis-
eases, Ninth Revision (ICD-9) coding revealed an increase
in the United States from 82,000 cases in 1996 to 178,000 in
2003. Dallal et al. (5) reported that the incidence of CDI in
hospitalized patients almost doubled from 0.68% in 1990 to
1.2% in the year 2000. The development of life-threatening
the same group. In Pittsburgh, 1.1% (27 of 2,540) of patients
diagnosed with nosocomial CDI from 1989 to 1999 needed a
of 253) of patients from 2000 to 2001 (some of whom had
been referred from other facilities because of severe CDI)
(14). Dial et al. (15) reported that 19% of 94 patients with
CDI required ICU admission, 9% required colectomy, 13%
CDI was 15.3%, a significant increase from the 3.5% mor-
tality rate in their previous study in 1995 (17).
BI/NAP1 (also known as NAP1/027) is a highly toxigenic
strain that was historically uncommon. This strain produces
15–20 times more toxin than more common strains. In addi-
associated disease. It has caused nosocomial and community
outbreaks in North America, Great Britain, and the Nether-
lands (9–12, 18, 19). Together, these data indicate that CDI
is evolving into a much more serious disease with significant
recent increases in severity, morbidity, and mortality.
Table 1. Summary of Special Characteristics and Outcomes in Patients Who Underwent Surgery for Fulminant CDI
WBC × 109/L Surgery (%)
Recent Undiagnosed Prior
to Surgery (%)
Study, Reference of Study Year
Diarrhea (%) (n)†Positive (%)
– R, RV
R = retrospective; RV = review; WBC = white cell count; CT = CT scan.
∗Post operative 30-day mortality.
†Total number of patients who underwent a CT scan of the abdomen.
‡WBC = 33 ± 19 th/cm2(survivors) and 37 ± 20 th/cm2(nonsurvivors) (P < 0.61).
§WBC = 23.3 × 109/L (survivors) and 40.8 × 109/L (nonsurvivors) (P < 0.01).
∗∗X-rays showed transverse colon dilation and loss of haustrations, 72% of patients in this series, with a mean diameter of 9.9 ± 3.4 cm.
††50% of patient had WBC > 30.0 × 109/L.
The most important risk factor for development of CDI is
prior antibiotic use up to 8 wk previously (16, 20, 21).
Many antibiotics have been implicated (20–23), but those
with the highest risk are clindamycin (24), cephalosporins
(especially ceftriaxone) (25, 26), and fluoroquinolones (12)
dent predictor of a positive C. difficile toxin assay in hospi-
talized patients (30, 31). Muto et al. (14) reported a large
outbreak of CDI with an unexpected proportion of colec-
tomies and deaths following increased fluoroquinolone use.
ease and in hospitalized adults who receive antibiotic ther-
apy (15–25%), including those who receive even one dose of
prophylaxis for surgery (25, 32–37). Kreisel et al. reported
that 6% of a total of 357 patients with positive C. difficile
toxin received prophylactic antibiotic therapy only for elec-
tive surgical procedures (35). Jobe et al. (17) reported that
preoperative antibiotic use was the most frequent predispos-
ing factor for CDI, accounting for 25% of a total of 201
patients with CDI. In a study of 67 patients who had a colec-
tomy for fulminant CDI at various Veterans Administration
hospitals, Longo et al. (4) reported that 54% developed it
during a hospitalization for an unrelated illness, and 87% af-
ter a surgical procedure. Similarly, Dallal et al. (5) reported
that 75% of patients who required a colectomy for fulminant
CDI had a recent surgical procedure or were on a surgical
service (Table 1). Other risk factors associated with CDI in-
clude uremia, burns, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
cancer, abdominal surgery, cesarean section, antiperistaltic
medications, proton pump inhibitors, stay in an intensive
Management of Fulminant Clostridium difficile Infection3197
care unit, longer hospital stay, chemotherapy, and postpy-
loric tube feedings (2, 4, 15, 25, 26, 38, 39). Renal disease
has been associated with increased mortality in patients with
between an immunocompromised state and susceptibility to
group (1, 2, 40–43). Immunosuppressed patients with solid
organ transplantation and those with an impaired antibody-
mediated immune response to C. difficile toxins as well as
patients with inflammatory bowel disease exacerbation are at
an increased risk of fulminant CDI (5, 44, 45, 46, 62). Pa-
tients with immunosuppression, prior history of successfully
treated CDI, and those who have undergone recent surgi-
cal procedures have the highest risk of developing fulminant
CDI (5, 46).
C. difficile colonizes the human intestinal tract after the nor-
mal gut flora has been altered by antibiotic therapy. It is not
known why only a fraction of patients exposed to a given
antibiotic becomes colonized with C. difficile or why only a
fraction (approximately one-third) of those colonized devel-
ops symptoms. One study suggests that serum IgG antibody
to toxin A may be an important component (45). Enterotoxin
A and cytotoxin B, produced by C. difficile, induce an in-
flammatory process. Both toxins adhere to receptors on the
Rho family proteins, a group of low molecular weight GTP-
Rho proteins are inactivated by C. difficile toxins, actin fila-
condition ultimately leads to increased capillary permeabil-
ity and peristalsis (47–49). The inflammation may result in
toxic megacolon and perforation in fulminant cases (4, 50).
Systemic symptoms are often caused by toxin-induced in-
factor α, interleukin-8, macrophage inflammatory protein-2,
and substance P) rather than bacteremia, colonic perforation,
or ischemia (12, 47, 51, 52). Lamontagne et al. (12) found
4.3% gram-negative bacteremia associated with CDI in 138
patients with CDI that required an admission to the ICU or
prolongation of stay there. The basis for the wide spectrum
of disease manifestations and the reason why some patients
suffer more severe symptoms than others are unclear. It is
believed that the ability to generate an antibody-mediated
response to clostridial toxins varies among patients.
CLINICAL MANIFESTATIONS AND SEVERITY ASSESSMENT
C. difficile infection can lead to manifestations as varied
as the asymptomatic carrier state to fulminant disease with
toxic megacolon and perforation (5, 6). Although diarrhea is
the hallmark of CDI, it may be absent secondary to severe
colonic dysmotility (Table 1) (4, 5, 17, 41, 44–46, 53), mak-
systemic inflammatory syndrome that may include abdomi-
Abdominal signs range from distention to generalized ten-
derness with guarding and acute surgical abdomen (2, 5, 43,
46, 50, 55–58). Patients usually present with strikingly high
(Table 1) (2, 4–6, 43, 46, 53, 54). CDI can account for sev-
eral serious complications, including perforation, prolonged
ileus, megacolon, and death (2). Life-threatening systemic
toxicity can develop in some patients despite appropriate and
timely medical therapy (59, 60).
Hemodynamic, respiratory, and urinary output data have
been used in the severity assessment of patients with CDI.
Dallal et al. (5) classified patients with systolic blood pres-
sure >100 mmHg, heart rate >90, moderate tachypnea, and
oliguria responding to volume as patients with moderate dis-
>120, are in need of mechanical ventilation or have severe
oliguria as patients with fulminant disease. Important factors
clude: higher WBC count (4–6, 61), renal insufficiency (6),
the need of vasopressors preoperatively (5, 46), and age (5,
12). A lower survival rate in patients with fulminant CDI
was associated with requirement for preoperative vasopres-
II and III scores (4, 46). In Dallal et al.’s study, age signifi-
cantly predicted survival (69 vs 60 yr) (P = 0.015) (5). No
colectomy. In addition, APACHE III data were available for
20/46 patients with fulminant colitis. The median APACHE
III score in these patients was 114. Nonsurvivors (n = 15)
had a median score of 117 versus 88 for survivors. The dif-
ference was not statistically significant (P = 0.15). However,
APACHE III scores increased daily until colectomy was per-
formed, each day significantly different (P < 0.01). Pepin
et al. (6) reported that a high WBC count (20 × 109/L or
greater) and an elevated creatinine level were strongly as-
sociated with adverse outcomes [adjusted odds ratio (AOR)
4.8; 95% confidence interval (CI) (2.8–8.4) and 3.1; (1.8–
5.2) respectively.] Lamontagne et al. (12) reported several
factors associated with increased 30-day mortality, includ-
ing WBC count >50,000 × 109/L (AOR, 18.6; 95% CI,
3.7–94.7), serum lactate > 5 mmol/L (AOR, 12.4; 95% CI,
2.4–63.7), age >75 yr (AOR, 6.5; 95% CI, 1.7–24.3), im-
munosuppression (AOR, 7.9; 95% CI, 2.3–27.2), and shock
requiring vasopressors (AOR, 3.4; 95% CI, 1.3– 8.7). Koss
et al. (46) reported that 66% of patients with organ failure
died versus 33.3% in the no organ failure group. In a recent
study of 73 patients who underwent surgery and acquired
C. difficile colitis, preoperative vasopressor requirement (P
= 0.04; odds ratio, 5.0), mental status changes (P = 0.002;
1.4) remained significant predictors of mortality (62).
3198Jaber et al.
Generally the diagnosis of C. difficile infection is established
lower endoscopy is necessary. Unexplained leukocytosis in a
hospitalized patient should prompt a work-up for C. difficile
infection (61). The ‘gold standard’ for the diagnosis of CDI
specificity of 85–100%. However, it may take as long as 1–3
days to get the test results (23, 63). This test has been largely
replaced by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)
that detects toxin A or toxin B. The ELISA tests are less
expensive and faster (2–6 h) than the cytotoxicity assay, with
the presence of both toxins (A and B) and has a sensitivity of
92.2–94.5% and a specificity of 100% when compared with
reduce the time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis and
the ELISA test on two to three occasions to decrease the
chances of false negative results. A recent study by Mohan
et al. revealed that less than 1% of diagnoses are changed by
repeating the test and thus are not warranted and are not cost
effective (67). However, the ELISA tests can be negative in
patients with fulminant disease (4, 5, 46, 53, 54). Dallal et al.
(5) reported that 12.5% of toxin assays in 64 patients with
fulminant CDI were falsely negative. Similarly, Longo et al.
(4) reported that 18% of 67 patients who required colectomy
for fulminant CDI had a negative C. difficile stool assay.
ically ill patients and those who have had recent antibiotic
exposure (5, 17, 41, 53, 55, 56, 58). A strikingly high WBC
count with bandemia should increase the index of suspicion
(Table 1). It is noteworthy that although CDI frequently de-
velops during hospitalization and often occurs after surgical
procedures, it can also begin outside the hospital (3, 5). In
patients with fulminant CDI, a computed tomography (CT)
Figure 1. Abdominal computed tomography scans from patients with fulminant Clostridium difficile colitis reveal pancolitis thickening and
dilatation of the colon.
appropriate clinical scenario, can be very suggestive of CDI
although detection of C. difficile toxins in the stool is still
necessary for the definitive diagnosis (Table 1). Longo et al.
(4) found that a CT scan of the abdomen is the most sensitive
indicator of whether antibiotic-associated diarrhea is accom-
panied by severe colonic inflammation. In the Dallal study
(5) where 39 patients underwent CT scans, it was diagnostic
dominal CT scan findings usually include colonic wall thick-
ening, colonic dilation, and ascites (Fig. 1) (4, 5, 43, 46, 53,
54, 68–72). The sensitivity and specificity of abdominal CT
imaging in detecting colonic abnormalities in patients with
CDI has a range of 52–85% and 48–93%, respectively (68,
73–75). However, CT scan findings correlate poorly with ac-
tual severity (43, 72, 74). Proctosigmoidoscopy may identify
pseudomembranes in as many as 23% of mild cases and 87%
of fulminant cases (50, 76, 77). In the study by Longo et al.
(4), 26/67 of patients with fulminant CDI underwent sigmoi-
doscopy and it was positive in all. Dallal et al. (5) reported
that 10% of endoscopies in patients who died or underwent
In addition, if the disease is localized to the right colon, sig-
moidoscopy will not be diagnostic and bowel prep may be
necessary to perform an adequate colonoscopy. There is a
risk of perforation with any colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy,
but especially among the elderly, frail, debilitated population
of patients with severe colitis. Therefore, a CT scan may be
a safer test and should be considered first when severe CDI
TREATMENT (Fig. 2)
When the diagnosis of CDI is likely or confirmed, the impli-
cated antimicrobial agent or agents should be discontinued
immediately or changed if possible. Supportive care should
be instituted including fluid resuscitation and ventilatory
Management of Fulminant Clostridium difficile Infection 3199
Figure 2. Treatment algorithms for CDI.
support if needed. In addition, physicians should avoid an-
tiperistaltics, including narcotics and loperamide. Patients
suffering from severe CDI (i.e., patients with toxic mega-
colon, leukemoid reactions (leukocyte count > 20 × 109
cells/L), renal failure, hypotension, septic shock, significant
intensive care unit and empiric-specific antimicrobial ther-
apy should be initiated. Oral vancomycin is the preferred