What Is Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation?

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), also known as defibrinogenation syndrome, is a rare disorder marked by excessive blood coagulation, which paradoxically results in simultaneous uncontrolled bleeding. Normally, clotting factors cause blood platelets to coagulate into a solid plug at the site of an injury, preventing blood loss from an open vein or artery.

In DIC, however, clotting occurs in small blood vessels throughout the body, even where no injury is apparent. This decreases the available quantity of clotting factors and platelets, thereby increasing the risk of severe bleeding. Furthermore, the body steps up its anticoagulation system to dissolve the numerous clots, which only compounds the likelihood of uncontrolled bleeding.

 In addition, blockage of blood vessels by clots may damage the kidneys and extremities, and sometimes even the brain, lungs, pituitary and adrenal glands, and the gastrointestinal lining. DIC occurs as a complication of a variety of severe disorders and injuries. Effective treatment requires proper diagnosis and vigorous treatment of the underlying disorder.

What Causes Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation?

  • Blood infection (bacterial sepsis) may cause widespread coagulation and subsequent bleeding.
  • Leukemia or other systemic cancers may cause disruption of the clotting mechanisms in the blood.
  • Extensive, serious burns destroy body tissues and may disturb the normal balance of clotting factors.
  • Heatstroke or shock (for example, due to massive blood loss) may lead to DIC.
  • Other serious disorders, such as cirrhosis of the liver or cardiac arrest, may cause DIC.
  • Complications during pregnancy and childbirth may disrupt the blood’s clotting mechanisms.
  • Some kinds of surgery, such as cardiopulmonary bypass surgery, may induce DIC.
  • A poisonous snakebite may cause excessive coagulation and bleeding.
  • Transfusion of an incompatible blood type may lead to DIC.

Symptoms of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

  • Abnormal bleeding from anywhere in the body, possibly at several sites at once
  • Tiny, red, pinpointlike dots (petechiae)
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Severe abdominal or back pain
  • Seizures or loss of consciousness in advanced cases (rare)
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea)
  • Seizures
  • Organ failure

Prevention of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

Disorders that could result in DIC require prompt treatment.

Diagnosis of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

  • Blood tests are performed.
  • A thorough physical examination and other tests and procedures are required to identify an underlying cause of DIC.
  • Complete blood count (CBC) measureswhite blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in your blood.

How to Treat Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

  • Hospitalization is necessary to properly treat and monitor DIC.
  • Treatment of the underlying disorder is of prime importance.
  • Fresh frozen plasma is used to replace low levels of coagulation factors.
  • A transfusion of whole blood, plasma, platelets, or packed red blood cells may be necessary after the underlying cause is treated.
  • Anticoagulants may be used to prevent excessive clotting.

When to Call a Doctor

EMERGENCY Call an ambulance if you develop symptoms of DIC.


Johns Hopkins Symptoms and Remedies: The Complete Home Medical Reference

Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor

Prepared by the Editors of The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter: Health After 50

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 26 Oct 2011

Last Modified: 23 Oct 2014