Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Written by Christine DiMaria and Marijane Leord | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Sylvia S. Hanna, MD

What is DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation)?

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a rare, life-threatening condition that prevents blood from clotting normally. The blood clots reduce blood flow and can block blood from reaching bodily organs. This increased clotting can use up the blood’s platelets and clotting factors. Fewer platelets and clotting factors available result in excessive bleeding.

DIC is a serious condition that can lead to death. If you have bleeding that won’t stop, go to the emergency room, or call 911.

What Causes DIC?

When the proteins used in your normal clotting process become overly active, it can cause DIC. Infection, severe trauma (i.e., brain injuries, crushing injuries) inflammation, surgery, and cancer are all known to contribute to this condition.

Some less common causes of DIC include the following:

  • extremely low body temperature (hypothermia)
  • venomous snake bites
  • burns
  • complications during pregnancy

You may also develop DIC if you go into shock.

Who Is at Risk for DIC?

Your risk for DIC is elevated if you have recently:

  • undergone surgery
  • delivered a baby
  • had an incomplete miscarriage
  • had a blood transfusion
  • had anesthesia
  • sepsis or any other fungal or bacterial blood infection
  • certain types of cancer, especially some leukemias
  • serious tissue damage such as a head injury, burns, or trauma
  • liver disease

What Are the Symptoms of DIC?

Bleeding, sometimes from multiple locations on the body, is one of the more common symptoms of DIC. Bleeding from the mucosa tissue (in the mouth and nose), and bleeding from other external areas may occur. In addition, DIC may also cause internal bleeding.

Other symptoms are:

  • blood clots
  • decreased blood pressure
  • bruising
  • rectal or vaginal bleeding
  • red dots on the surface of the skin

If you have cancer, DIC generally begins slowly, and clotting in the veins is more common than excessive bleeding.

Complications of DIC

DIC can cause complications, especially when it is not treated properly. The clots in the vessels will result in an inadequate oxygen supply reaching your organs. This has the potential to cause organ damage. Other complications include:

  • lack of oxygen to limbs and organs
  • stroke
  • excessive bleeding that may lead to death

How Is DIC Diagnosed?

DIC may be identified through various tests related to your levels of platelets, clotting factors and other blood components. However, there is not a standard procedure. The following are some tests that may be conducted if your doctor suspects DIC.

  • fibrin degradation product
  • complete blood cell count (CBC) from a blood smear
  • complete blood cell count (CBC) from sample
  • platelet count
  • partial thromboplastin time
  • D-dimer test
  • serum fibrinogen
  • prothrombin time

How Is DIC Treated?

Treating the Cause

DIC treatment depends on what is causing the disorder. Treatment of the underlying condition is the main goal. To treat the clotting problem, you may be given an anticoagulant called heparin to reduce and prevent clotting. However, heparin may not be administered if you have a severe lack of platelets or are bleeding too excessively.

People with acute DIC require hospitalization, often in an intensive care unit (ICU), where treatment will attempt to correct the problem causing the DIC while maintaining the function of the organs.

Transfusions

A transfusion may be needed to replace the platelets that you are missing. Plasma transfusions have the ability to replace the clotting factors that you are lacking.

Long-Term Outlook for DIC

Your prognosis relates to what is causing DIC. If the initial problem can be corrected, then DIC will resolve. If not, DIC can be life threatening.

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