Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)

Alternative names
Consumption coagulopathy

DIC is a disorder of the “clotting cascade.” It results in depletion of clotting factors in the blood.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

DIC is when your body’s blood clotting mechanisms are activated throughout the body instead of being localized to an area of injury. Small blood clots form throughout the body, and eventually the blood clotting factors are used up and not available to form clots at sites of real tissue injury. Clot dissolving mechanisms are also increased.

This disorder has variable effects, and can result in either clotting symptoms or, more often, bleeding. Bleeding can be severe. DIC may be stimulated by many factors. These include infection in the blood by bacteria or fungus, severe tissue injury (as in burns and Head injury), cancer, reactions to blood transfusions, and obstetrical complications (such as retained placenta after delivery).

Risk factors are recent sepsis, recent injury or trauma, recent surgery or anesthesia, complications of labor and delivery, leukemia or disseminated cancer, recent blood transfusion reaction, and severe liver disease.


  • Bleeding, possibly from multiple sites in the body  
  • Thrombosis formation evidenced by bluish coloration of the fingers  
  • Sudden bruising

Signs and tests

  • Fibrinogen and/or fibrin - high degradation products  
  • Serum fibrinogen - low  
  • Prothrombin time (PT) - high  
  • Partial throboplastin time (PTT) - high  
  • Platelet count  
  • Thrombin time test

The goal is to determine the underlying cause of DIC and provide treatment for that.

Replacement therapy of the coagulation factors is achieved by transfusion of fresh frozen plasma. Cryoprecipitates may also be used if fibrinogen is significantly low. Heparin, a medication used to prevent thrombosis, is sometimes used in combination with replacement therapy.

Expectations (prognosis)
The underlying disease that causes the disorder will usually predict the probable outcome.


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

Calling your health care provider
Go to the emergency room or call 911 if you have continued bleeding of unknown cause.

Get prompt treatment for conditions known to precipitate the disorder.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.