Histological features of Clostridioides difficile colitis in patients with inflammatory bowel disease

Histopathology. 2022 Sep;81(3):312-318. doi: 10.1111/his.14702. Epub 2022 Jul 14.


Jacob R Sweeney 1Carl V Crawford 2Rhonda K Yantiss 3


Author information

1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, OH, USA.

2Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY, USA.

3Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY, USA.


Aims: Patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at increased risk for Clostridioides difficile infection, although clinically important infections can be difficult to recognise. C. difficile infection does not produce pseudomembranes when it occurs in IBD patients. These individuals may also be colonised by the organism, in which case diarrhoeal symptoms are not necessarily attributed to C. difficile. We performed this study to determine whether any features distinguished C. difficile-associated colitis from an IBD flare.

Methods and results: We reviewed the clinical, endoscopic and biopsy findings from 50 patients with established IBD and worsening diarrhoea, including 22 with concurrent positive C. difficile stool toxin polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays and 28 with negative C. difficile assay results. We found that C. difficile-infected patients had symptoms and endoscopic findings that were indistinguishable from active IBD. Although most biopsy samples from patients with C. difficile infection showed chronic active colitis indistinguishable from IBD, some displayed neutrophilic infiltrates unaccompanied by plasma cell-rich inflammation involving superficial (41%) and crypt (18%) epithelium as well as neutrophilic infiltrates within lamina propria distant from foci of cryptitis (32%). All three of these features were significantly more common among infected than uninfected patients (4, 0 and 4%; P = 0.002, P = 0.03 and P = 0.02, respectively).

Conclusions: Although colonic biopsies from IBD patients with C. difficile infection usually lack features that aid distinction from colitic flares, some cases show an acute colitis pattern not seen in IBD alone. When identified in biopsies from symptomatic IBD patients, these changes should alert pathologists to the possibility of this clinically important infection.


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