Patients' experience and perception of hospital-treated Clostridium difficile infections: a qualitative study

Patient. 2014;7(1):97-105. doi: 10.1007/s40271-013-0043-y.


Background: Clostridium difficile is the leading cause of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and an important source of nosocomial infection. Clinical manifestations can range from mild diarrhea to lethal pseudomembranous colitis. Little is known about the burden of C. difficile infections (CDI) in patients.

Objective: This qualitative study explored the impact of hospital-treated CDI on patients' lives from the first occurrence of CDI symptoms, through their hospital stay, and after discharge.

Methods: Semi-structured interviews with 12 US and 12 French patients who had experienced CDI were conducted using an interview guide that was developed on the basis of a thorough literature review. Transcripts from these interviews were analyzed to identify concepts related to the research question.

Findings: CDI affected numerous aspects of patients' lives. Patients reported that the continuous, watery, and uncontrollable diarrhea characteristic of CDI had the most impact on their daily lives. Diarrhea prevented them from participating in usual daily activities; this caused the collapse of their social lives. Patients felt humiliated and embarrassed. Patients' emotional distress worsened once hospitalized; they reported feelings of loneliness and worry when placed in isolation. From discharge to the time of the interview, patients reported both psychological and physical improvement. However, despite continuing improvement, most patients reported persistent worry and fear of recurrent episodes, and they were thus more careful about their diet and hygiene.

Conclusion: As one patient in this study explained, CDI is "the worst of everything that I've had." The emotional distress and extreme physical exhaustion associated with CDI result in a traumatic and frightening experience for patients. This trauma persists after recovery and includes lingering fears of a recurrent episode.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Clostridioides difficile*
  • Clostridium Infections / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception*
  • Qualitative Research