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Evaluating the CT diagnosis of Clostridium difficile colitis: should CT guide therapy?

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to further characterize the CT findings of Clostridium difficile colitis and to provide for the first time a diagnostic sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value to help clinicians decide whether antibiotic treatment is warranted on the basis of CT findings while awaiting stool test results (which may take as long as 48 hr).

MATERIALS AND METHODS: A retrospective review covering a 4-year period was performed of the charts and CT scans of 54 symptomatic patients with stool test results positive for C. difficile and of a control group of 56 patients with antibiotic-associated diarrhea with stool test results negative for C. difficile.

RESULTS: At our institution, C. difficile colitis was explicitly diagnosed at CT in these patients with a sensitivity of 52%, specificity of 93%, positive predictive value of 88%, and negative predictive value of 67%. The sensitivity can be raised to 70% with no change in specificity with more rigid adherence to diagnostic criteria of colon wall thickening of greater than 4 mm combined with any one or more findings of pericolonic stranding, colon wall nodularity, the "accordion" sign, or otherwise unexplained ascites.

CONCLUSION: Although routine CT screening of antibiotic-associated diarrhea is not advocated, the 88% positive predictive value of a diagnosis of C. difficile colitis in those who are scanned may merit consideration of treatment by clinicians on the basis of the CT results alone.

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