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All About Fecal Transplants

  • 3 min read

You may have heard of this thing called a fecal transplant and thought is that really what I think it is? Yes, it is what you think it is. File this blog post under "The More You Know."

Read on fiber friends about how doctors transfer one person's stool to another and why someone may need this procedure.

What is a Fecal Transplant?

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Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is when a doctor takes stool from a healthy donor and places it in another person's gastrointestinal tract (aka the patient).

Why Would You Need a Fecal Transplant?

You would need this transplant if you have a reoccurring issue with an infection in the digestive tract called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. The healthy stool introduces healthy bacteria into the patient’s intestines to control and fight off C. diff.  It is more successful in regulating C. diff than antibiotics in some cases. 

What is Clostridium difficile?

A healthy digestive tract has thousands of bacteria which in most cases is helpful to digestion or are harmless bacteria. Deep dive blog post on the microbiome here

Antibiotics, which may be prescribed for certain conditions, can kill off the good bacteria in your colon. In this case, it allows bad bacteria, like Clostridium difficile (C. diff) to take over. (This is bad).

Symptoms of having C. diff can vary with diarrhea being the most common; one's stool is usually watery and, can be on rare occasions, bloody. There may also be crampy abdominal pain and/or fever, nausea, and vomiting. 

People over the age of 65 and those with chronic illnesses are at the most risk, where a C. diff infection can be severe and even fatal in some cases.

How Does the Transplant Work?

So you may be asking, how do they get the healthy stool? There are two fecal microbiota therapies have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA): an oral capsule and an enema. Other ways of obtaining fecal matter are by colonoscopy and an upper endoscopy.

During a colonoscopy, the doctor inserts a slim tube with a camera via your rectum and moves it into your colon. This works both ways in that you can obtain fecal matter from a healthy patient and deliver fecal matter to the person who needs it via a colonoscopy.

An enema is similar to a colonoscopy in that it enters the body via the rectum but there is no need for anesthesia or to prep the body with laxatives before as with a colonoscopy. The healthy fecal matter is delivered by enema via a tube.

The other FDA-approved method for a fecal transplant is an oral capsule. The capsule contains freeze-dried, live fecal microbiota that are designed to stay intact until they get to your colon.

An upper endoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy in that a doctor inserts a tube into the body but this time it's via the mouth or nose and travels all the way down to the stomach.

Who May Need a Fecal Transplant?

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First, as always consult a medical doctor if you feel you can be a candidate for a fecal transplant. Those who have reoccurring C. diff infections in their colon are candidates for this transplant. This procedure is still new and only prescribed after other treatments have failed.

There are other potential uses of fecal transplant surgery, such as for those with obesity and IBS, but at this time there is not enough research for doctors to recommend fecal transplants for those conditions. We will continue to keep you updated.

Sources: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, WebMD, and American College of Gastroenterology