Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)
Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a serious disorder in which the proteins that control blood clotting become abnormally active.
Normally, when you are injured, certain proteins in the blood become activated and travel to the injury site to help stop bleeding. However, in persons with DIC, these proteins become abnormally active. This often occurs due to inflammation, infection, or cancer.
Small blood clots form within the blood vessels. Some of these clots can clog up the vessels and cut off blood supply to various organs such as the liver, brain, or kidney. These organs will then stop functioning. Over time, the clotting proteins become "used up." When this happens, the person is then at risk for serious bleeding from even a minor injury. The small blood clots may also break up healthy red blood cells.
This disorder can result in clots or, more often, in bleeding. The bleeding can be severe.
Risk factors for DIC include:
- Blood transfusion reaction
- Cancer, especially certain types of leukemia
- Infection in the blood by bacteria or fungus
- Pregnancy complications (such as retained placenta after delivery)
- Recent surgery or anesthesia
- Sepsis (an overwhelming infection)
- Severe liver disease
- Severe tissue injury (as in burns and head injury)
- Bleeding, possibly from multiple sites in the body
- Blood clots
- Drop in blood pressure
- Sudden bruising
Exams and Tests
The following tests may be done:
- Examination of a blood sample under a microscope
- Fibrin degradation products - high
- Partial thromboplastin time (PTT) - high
- Platelet count - low
- Prothrombin time (PT) - high
- Serum fibrinogen - low
The goal is to determine and treat the underlying cause of DIC.
Blood clotting factors may be replaced with plasma transfusions. Heparin, a medication used to prevent clotting, is sometimes used.
The outcome depends on what is causing the disorder.
- Lack of blood flow to arms, legs, or vital organs
- Severe bleeding
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have bleeding that won't stop.
Get prompt treatment for conditions known to bring on this disorder.
Schafer AI. Hemorrhagic disorders: disseminated intravascular coagulation, liver failure, and vitamin K deficiency. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 181.
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.