Loading icon
Press enter or spacebar to select a desired language.
Health Information Center

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

  • Patricia Griffin Kellicker, BSN
Publication Type:


Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

(DIC; Consumption Coagulopathy; Defibrination Syndrome)


Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a problem with how blood clots. DIC causes blood clots to form in small blood vessels. These clots can slow or block the flow of blood through these vessels. The organs and tissue that rely on this blood flow can then be harmed.

Blood clots are made of platelets and clotting factors. The blood clots caused by DIC decrease the body's platelets and clotting factor. This could lead to bleeding in other areas of the body.

DIC may be acute or chronic. Acute DIC forms over a few hours or days. It can quickly lead to bleeding problems. Chronic DIC can form over months. Chronic DIC makes blood clots but rarely leads to bleeding problems. DIC is a life-threatening problem that needs health care right away.

Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation.

exh36327ghttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=76657665exh36327g.jpgexh36327g.jpgNULLjpgexh36327g.jpgNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\exh36327g.jpgNULL80NULL2008-12-10272430Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


DIC can be caused by:
  • Cancers such as breast, prostate, or leukemia
  • Organ damage such as liver failure or pancreatitis
  • Infection
  • Problems during pregnancy
  • Injury from an accident
The trauma or swelling caused by these conditions sparks changes in the blood clotting process.

Rarely, DIC can be caused by toxins from poisonous snake bites.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of DIC include:

  • Sepsis—a body-wide infection
  • Problems with pregnancy and delivery such as:
    • Eclampsia
    • Amniotic fluid clots
    • Retained placenta
  • Recent trauma such as:
  • Recent surgery
  • Cancer, including leukemia
  • Severe liver disease or pancreatitis


Symptoms of DIC can vary because the blood clots can form all over the body. Clots in the:

  • Brain may cause headaches, lightheadedness, and other signs of stroke such as speech and movement problems
  • Legs may cause swelling, redness, and warmth
  • Lungs can cause shortness of breath
  • Heart can cause chest pain or a heart attack

Bleeding is often the first sign in acute DIC. Signs of bleeding include:

  • Bruising that happens more often or is worse than expected
  • Red spots on the skin that look like a series of tiny bruises
  • A lot of bleeding from wounds
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding from gums
  • Blood in urine—may cause pink or brown urine
  • Dark, tarry stool
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding

For bleeding that does not stop or that does not seem to have a reason, call for emergency medical help right away.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. Blood tests will also be done to look at the levels of clotting factors and platelets.


The goals of treatment are to get rid of the clots and help the blood have the right levels of clotting factor. The underlying cause of DIC will need to be found and treated. Treatment depends on what is causing the DIC.

To help manage the DIC the doctor may advise:

  • Blood products—to help restore clotting factor balance. Fresh frozen plasma, platelets, or cryoprecipitates may be given.
  • Heparin—medicine that thins the blood. It may be given along with blood products to reduce clots.
  • Antithrombin III—medicine used to slow down clotting in certain patients.


Getting treated right away for any health problems linked to DIC may reduce the risk of it.





  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/disseminated-intravascular-coagulation-dic-in-adults.
  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/disseminated-intravascular-coagulation.
  • Levi, M. and Sivapalaratnam, S. Disseminated intravascular coagulation: an update on pathogenesis and diagnosis. Expert Review of Hematology, 2018; 11 (8): 663-672.


  • Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.