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Outcome after colectomy for Clostridium difficile colitis.

PURPOSE: Clostridium difficile colitis is a relatively common entity, yet large series of patients with fulminant C. difficile colitis are infrequently reported. This study was designed to identify risk factors, clinical characteristics, and outcome of patients who required colectomy for fulminant C. difficile colitis.

METHODS: A population-based study on all patients in 159 hospitals of the Department of Veterans Affairs from 1997 to 2001 was performed. Data were compiled from several national computerized Department of Veterans Affairs data sets. Supplementary information including demographic information, discharge summaries, operative reports, and pathology reports were obtained from local medical records. Patient variables were entered into a computerized database and analyzed using the Pearson chi-squared and Fisher's exact tests. Statistical significance was designated as P < 0.05.

RESULTS: Sixty-seven patients (mean age, 69 (range, 40-86) years; 99 percent males) were identified. All 67 patients had C. difficile verified in the colectomy specimens. Thirty-six of 67 patients (54 percent) developed C. difficile colitis during a hospitalization for an unrelated illness, and 30 of 36 patients (87 percent) after a surgical procedure. Thirty-one of 67 (46 percent) developed C. difficile colitis at home. There was no history of diarrhea in 25 of 67 patients (37 percent). Thirty of 67 patients (45 percent) presented in shock (blood pressure, <90 mmHg). Forty-three of 67 patients (64 percent) presented with an acute surgical abdomen. Mean white blood cell count was 27.2; mean percent bands was 12. Twelve of 67 patients (18 percent) had a negative C difficile colitis stool assay. Abdominal computed tomography correctly diagnosed 45 of 46 patients (98 percent) who were imaged. Twenty-six of 67 patients (39 percent) underwent colonoscopy; all 26 were found to have severe inflammation or pseudomembranes. Fifty-three of 67 patients (80 percent) underwent total colectomy; 14 of 67 underwent segmental colonic resection. Perforation and infarction were found in 59 of 67 patients (58 percent) at surgery. Overall mortality was 48 percent (32/67). Mean hospitalization was 36 (range, 2-297) days.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with fulminant C. difficile colitis often present with an unexplained abdominal illness with a marked leukocytosis that rapidly progresses to shock and peritonitis. Although frequently developed during a hospitalization and often after a surgical procedure, it may develop outside of a hospital setting. Diarrhea may be absent and stool cytology may be negative for C. difficile toxin. Perforation and infarction are frequently found at surgery. In those patients who survive, a prolonged hospitalization is common. Mortality from fulminant C. difficile colitis remains high despite surgical intervention.

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