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Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)

Definition

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a serious disorder in which the proteins that control blood clotting become abnormally active.

Alternative Names

Consumption coagulopathy

Causes

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)

Symptoms

  • 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:

Treatment

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.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome depends on what is causing the disorder.

Possible Complications

  • Lack of blood flow to arms, legs, or vital organs
  • Severe bleeding
  • Stroke

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have bleeding that won't stop.

Prevention

Get prompt treatment for conditions known to bring on this disorder.

References

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.


Review Date: 11/5/2009
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.
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