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Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Apr 2020| Content last modified Apr 2020
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When you're injured and bleeding, your blood forms a clot to seal damaged blood vessels and stop the bleeding. Blood has special clotting substances and platelets (very small blood cells) in order to make the clot.

Sometimes clots form when they're not supposed to, which can block blood vessels.

What is disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)?

Coagulation is a word for clotting. Disseminated means throughout the body. Intravascular means inside the blood vessels.

So DIC is a problem in which your body forms many small blood clots throughout your bloodstream.

  • The clots in DIC block many small blood vessels, which cut down blood flow to your organs

  • Your organs may not work well and may even be permanently damaged

  • All the little clots caused by DIC use up your body's clotting substances and platelets

  • If your clotting substances and platelets are used up, you're at risk for serious bleeding

  • DIC may happen suddenly from an infection or major injury, or it may happen slowly, usually from cancer

  • Doctors can't stop DIC but they'll treat the problem that’s causing DIC

What causes DIC?

Problems that can lead to DIC include:

  • Severe infections, particularly sepsis (a serious bloodstream infection)

  • Severe low blood pressure (shock) from any cause, such as a major injury or complications of surgery

  • Complications of pregnancy

  • Certain cancers

What are the symptoms of DIC?

DIC can start suddenly or slowly, depending on what caused it.

DIC that starts suddenly, such as from sepsis or shock, usually causes:

  • Bleeding from needles and IVs

  • Bruises on your skin

  • Throwing up or passing blood in your stool

The bleeding in sudden DIC may be very hard to stop.

DIC that starts slowly, as in people with cancer, usually causes clotting problems rather than bleeding problems.

People with DIC can die, particularly if the problem that caused the DIC also is dangerous.

How can doctors tell if I have DIC?

Doctors will do blood tests to see how well your blood clots. They'll also measure the levels of platelets and certain clotting substances in your blood.

How do doctors treat DIC?

Doctors treat the problem or injury causing the DIC. The clotting and bleeding problems usually go away when the cause is corrected.

DIC that develops suddenly is an emergency because it can damage your organs and lead to a lot of bleeding. Doctors may give you blood transfusions and medicines to help stop the bleeding.

If you aren't bleeding and your main problem is clots that are blocking your blood vessels, doctors may give you medicine that slows down clotting.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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