Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Diagnosis of pseudomembranous colitis.

Br Med J 1978; 1 doi: (Published 18 March 1978) Cite this as: Br Med J 1978;1:675
  1. A Kappas,
  2. N Shinagawa,
  3. Y Arabi,
  4. H Thompson,
  5. D Burdon,
  6. F Dimock,
  7. R H George,
  8. J Alexander-Williams,
  9. M R Keighley


    Twenty-eight patients with histologically proved pseudomembranous colitis have been seen in one hospital since July 1975. All patients with the disease had received antibiotics, six for infections not requiring operations; the other 22 cases all occurred after major surgery. All the patients had diarrhoea; six patients also had fever with clinical signs of sepsis, and three had abdominal pain thought to be due to anastomotic dehiscence after colonic resection. Pseudomembranous colitis was associated with white blood counts over 15 000/mm3 in 17 patients and albumin concentrations of less than 30 g/1 in 18. Pseudomembranous colitis was an incidental finding at necropsy in two of six patients who had not had an operation. Of the 22 patients who had had major surgery, nine died from this complication; in all except two of these cases the diagnosis was made only at necropsy. If pseudomembranous colitis is suspected on clinical grounds or if there is an unexplained complication after colorectal surgery repeat sigmoidoscopy and testing for faecal toxins should be carried out to establish the diagnosis so that prompt supportive treatment can be given.