Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC): Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC): Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
Medical Student

What Is Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation?

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a rare, life-threatening condition. In the early stages of the condition, DIC causes your blood to clot excessively. This can cause blood clots that reduce blood flow and can block blood from reaching bodily organs. As the condition progresses, the platelets and clotting factors in your blood are used up, and you will begin to experience 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 for prompt medical treatment.

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 mucosal tissue (in the mouth and nose), and bleeding from other external areas may occur. In addition, DIC may cause internal bleeding.

Other symptoms are:

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

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

What Causes DIC?

When the proteins used in your normal clotting process become overly active, it can cause DIC. Infection, severe trauma (such as brain injuries or 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
  • pancreatitis
  • 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
  • had sepsis or any other fungal or bacterial blood infection
  • had certain types of cancer, especially certain types of leukemia
  • had serious tissue damage such as a head injury, burns, or trauma
  • had liver disease

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

Complications of DIC

DIC can cause complications, especially when it is not treated properly. Complications can occur from the excessive clotting that occurs in the early stages of the condition, and the absence of clotting factors in the later stages. Complications include:

  • blood clots that cause a lack of oxygen to limbs and organs
  • stroke
  • excessive bleeding that may lead to death

How Is DIC Treated?

DIC treatment depends on what is causing the disorder. Treatment of the underlying cause 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.

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

The outlook of your treatment depends on what caused you to develop DIC. If the initial problem can be corrected, then DIC will resolve. If not, your doctor may prescribe blood thinners to prevent blood clots.

People who are taking blood thinners should see their doctors for regular checkups. Your doctor will want to give you regular blood tests to evaluate how your blood is clotting.

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