Some people will get repeat infections from Clostridium difficile (C. diff). They may develop the same symptoms they had before such as diarrhea, stomach pain, and loss of appetite.

However, the only way for a person to know if a C.diff infection (CDI) has come back is to speak with a doctor.

C. diff are bacteria that live almost everywhere in the environment. Sometimes, colonies, or groups, of C. diffreside in a person’s gut but cause no issues. However, the bacteria produce exotoxins that can damage the gut, leading to swelling. Doctors call this a CDI, and the common symptoms include:

Read on to learn more about the signs that a person has another CDI.

An image of a toilet paper roll.Share on Pinterest
Pui Yee Lee/EyeEm/Getty Images

Almost half a million people in the United States will develop a CDI every year. Relapses are relatively common — 1 in every 6 of these people will get the infection again 2–8 weeks later.

Doctors may call this a C. diff relapse or recurrent CDI (rCDI). People who have had a CDI more than once are more likely to have another infection.

Learn more about bacteria and what they do here.

Someone with rCDI will usually experience the same symptoms they had the first time they had the infection. These may be mild or severe, depending on the person, and will usually include three or more bouts of diarrhea per day.

The only way to be sure if C. diff has come back is to speak with a doctor. They usually recommend a stool test to check for the bacteria or the toxins that C. diff causes.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of C. diff.

Researchers do not know what causes C. diff to come back. Also, they do not know whether rCDI is due to the same bacteria that caused the first infection or a new strain of bacteria.

Some risk factors that make recurrence more likely include:

  • being older than 65
  • taking antibiotics as they can upset the balance of good bacteria in the gut
  • being on proton pump inhibitors
  • having had a CDI before

There are some steps people can take to avoid getting CDI again. These include:

  • telling a doctor if they have had C. diff before, so they can prescribe the right medication
  • taking the full course of antibiotics
  • washing their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom
  • washing their hands with soap and water before eating

Learn more about the side effects of antibiotics here.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone who starts having C. diff symptoms again after starting treatment should seek medical care.

Treatment options available for people who experience multiple CDIs include:

  • Antibiotics: Doctors will usually recommend different antibiotics depending on how many times the person has had a CDI before.
  • Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT): When antibiotics do not work, doctors may suggest an FMT. This involves inserting stool from a person without C. diff into the colon of the person with rCDI. This helps to rectify the balance of bacteria in the gut. According to 2019 research, FMT treatment cured about 90% of people with rCDI.

Learn about what to eat with a C.diff infection.

C. diff bacteria can produce toxins that damage the gut and lead to various symptoms, including diarrhea and stomach pain. Doctors call this a CDI, and it tends to happen when someone has been taking antibiotics. This happens because the antibiotics a person takes to treat a different infection often destroy the helpful bacteria, allowing C. diff to reproduce and overpower the gut.

Once someone has had a CDI, the problem can keep coming back. Doctors call this recurrent CDI, or rCDI. The symptoms of each episode of CDI will be broadly similar and may include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain.

If a person has symptoms of a CDI, they should contact a doctor.