Over the past few years, fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), or stool transplantation, has become an important treatment option for those suffering with Clostridium difficile infection.
And while this procedure may sound unusual, the idea of FMT has been around for centuries. Fecal transplants may actually cure some infectious diseases.
“Fecal transplantation can be a life-saving option for patients in need,” said Marc Schwartz, MD, assistant professor of medicine and fecal transplantation expert in the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.
About Clostridium Difficile
Clostridium difficile (also known as C difficile or C diff), is a serious bacterial infection that can cause swelling and inflammation in the colon or large intestine.
C diff is contagious and most commonly affects people who are elderly, in the hospital, chronically ill, or taking antibiotics. C diff is often passed from person to person, when an infected person, or someone in contact with an infected person, does not wash their hands with soap and water. The serious symptoms of C diff can be very painful and include:
C diff can be treated with antibiotics but when the infection reoccurs, a fecal transplant may be needed.
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How Does Fecal Microbiota Transplant Work?
During a fecal transplant, stool is provided from a healthy donor and is processed for transplantation into the colon of an infected patient. This is most commonly done through colonoscopy or upper endoscopy.
During this procedure, a colonoscope (through the rectum), endoscope (through the mouth), or feeding tube (through the mouth) is inserted into the intestine, allowing the healthy donor stool to be inserted. From there, the healthy bacteria from the donor’s stool will fight and eliminate the C diff infection.
Is Fecal Microbiota Transplant Effective?
The study of fecal transplants is ongoing, but the data is very encouraging. Everyone is different and so are the biomes of our guts. Therefore, not all treatments will be equally as effective for everyone, and particular digestive diseases affecting the gut biome such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis can alter the effectiveness of such treatments. However, a 2021 study found that of the 259 participants, 200 were cured in a one month window undergoing only one FMT, about 90% effectiveness. This study was conducted on individuals with Clostridioides difficile infections or CDIs. While more research will need to be conducted before conclusions about other diseases affecting the gut microbiome, these outstanding results are very encouraging for future understandings.
Who Can Be a Fecal Transplant Donor?
In order to start the process of a stool transplant, a healthy donor is needed. Friends and family members are common donors, but any healthy person’s stool may be used. All donors must go through testing to be sure that further infection is not spread to the person receiving the transplant.
Potential donors should not:
- Have taken antibiotics for three months prior to the transplant.
- Have a history of inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea, colon cancer, or other chronic gastrointestinal diseases.
- Have any chronic medical problems.
- Have a history of drug use.
Recovery from Fecal Matter Transplant
After a fecal matter transplant, the recipient will need a caregiver to drive them home. They may continue their typical activities, as tolerated. Learn more by visiting the UPMC Digestive Health Care website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
About Digestive Disorders
UPMC Digestive Health Care cares for a wide range of gastrointestinal (GI) conditions and diseases, from diagnosis to treatment. Whether your digestive condition is common or complicated, our experts can help. Upon referral from your physician, we coordinate your testing and treatment. If you have a complicated condition, we can refer you to one of UPMC’s digestive health centers of excellence. Find a GI doctor near you.