DIC is caused by another medical condition that makes the body’s normal blood clotting process become overactive. The condition progresses through two stages. In the early stages, overactive clotting leads to blood clots throughout the blood vessels. The clots can reduce or block blood flow, damaging organs.
As DIC progresses, the overactive clotting uses up platelets and clotting factors, which are proteins that help with normal blood clotting. Without these platelets and clotting factors, DIC can cause bleeding just beneath the skin, in the nose or mouth, or deep inside the body.
Causes of DIC include:
To understand DIC, it helps to understand the body’s normal blood clotting process. Learn more about how blood clots form.
Blood clots form naturally at sites of injury to prevent or control bleeding. When small cuts or breaks occur on the walls of the blood vessels, your body turns on clotting factors. The clotting factor thrombin forms long fibrin protein strands that clump together with platelets to create blood clots that then seal the cuts or breaks. Once bleeding stops, the body begins breaking down the clots as part of the blood vessel healing process.
Risk factors for DIC include infection, injury, lifestyle habits, and other medical conditions.
Sepsis, a body-wide response to infection that causes inflammation, is the most common risk factor for DIC. The infection may be caused by parasites, bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
Use of illegal drugs, such as cocaine and ecstasy, may increase the risk of DIC.
Medical conditions that may raise your risk of DIC include:
DIC can result from many medical conditions, most of which cannot be prevented. Sometimes, immediate or prompt treatment after a procedure or medical condition may help prevent DIC.
Signs and symptoms of DIC depend on whether the condition is acute or chronic. Acute DIC is more severe and develops quickly over hours or days. The first sign may be bleeding. Chronic DIC, such as from cancer, happens more slowly and sometimes has no signs or symptoms.
Complications from DIC can occur from both the clotting that happens in the early stages of the condition and from bleeding in the later stages. Serious complications include organ damage and hemorrhage.
Signs and symptoms of DIC may include:
DIC can lead to complications resulting from overactive clotting or from the bleeding that follows. These complications can be life-threatening and may include:
Your doctor will diagnose DIC based on your medical history, a physical exam, and tests. Your doctor will also look for the cause of DIC, because it does not occur on its own.
To help diagnose DIC, your doctor will ask about any medical conditions or recent events, such as illness or an injury, that could cause or be a risk factor for DIC. Your doctor will do a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of blood clots, bleeding, or a condition that could cause DIC or a complication of DIC.
If your doctor suspects DIC, the following blood tests may help diagnose it:
Your doctor may use a scoring system to diagnose DIC. The score is based on your platelet count, PT, D-dimer test, and fibrinogen levels. The higher the score, the more likely it is that you have DIC. To make a diagnosis, your doctor may repeat some tests and monitor your condition over time.
Your doctor may suggest additional tests or procedures to find out whether another condition is causing your symptoms. These tests may include:
Treatment for DIC depends on its severity and symptoms. The main goals of treatment for DIC are to control clotting and bleeding and to treat the underlying cause. DIC may go away once the underlying cause is treated.
Your doctor may use anticoagulants, also called blood thinners, to reduce blood clotting. You may be given them as a pill, as an injection, or through an IV. Possible side effects include bleeding, especially if you are taking other medicines that also thin your blood, such as aspirin.
Your doctor may recommend the following treatments.
Acute DIC and its underlying causes are serious life-threatening conditions, so your treatment management and recovery will likely be done in the hospital. If you have been diagnosed with DIC, it is important that you follow your treatment plan, get regular care, and learn the warning signs of complications.
Your follow-up care may include recommendations such as the following.
Return to Treatment to review possible treatment options for your DIC.
You may need to take blood-thinning medicines to help prevent blood clots or to keep existing clots from getting larger. If you are taking blood thinners, talk to your doctor about how often you should schedule follow-up visits. Your doctor may recommend regular blood tests to check how well your blood is clotting.
Also, let everyone on your healthcare team know you are taking blood-thinning medicines. If you need surgery, your doctor may adjust the amount of medicine you take before, during, and after the surgery to prevent bleeding. This also may happen before dental work, but it is less common.
DIC can lead to serious complications such as heart attack or stroke. Risks of treatment with blood thinners include severe bleeding in the brain.
If you think that you or someone else is having the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Every minute matters.
If you take a dose of blood-thinning medicine that is too high, it may cause bleeding in the digestive system or in the brain. Signs and symptoms include severe pain in your head, sudden changes in your vision, sudden inability to move your legs or arms, memory loss or confusion, bright red vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds, blood in your urine or stool, or black, tarry stools.
A lot of bleeding after a fall or injury, or easy bruising or bleeding, may mean that your blood is too thin. Excessive bleeding is bleeding that will not stop after you apply pressure to a wound for 10 minutes. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs.
Heart attack symptoms include mild or severe chest pain or discomfort in the center of the chest or upper abdomen that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back. This discomfort can feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness, heartburn, or indigestion. There also may be pain down the left arm. Although men and women can experience these symptoms, women are more likely to have other, less typical symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, unusual tiredness, and pain in the back, shoulders, or jaw. Read more about the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and perform the following simple test.
F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T—Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Early treatment is essential.
Read more about the signs and symptoms of a stroke.
Talk with your doctor before using any over-the-counter medicines or products, including vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies. Some of these products can affect blood clotting and bleeding. For example, aspirin and ibuprofen may thin your blood too much. This can increase your risk of bleeding. Vitamin K supplements can prevent certain blood thinners from working.
Learn about the following ways the NHLBI continues to translate current research into improved health for people who have DIC. Research on this topic is part of the NHLBI’s broader commitment to advancing blood disorders and blood safety scientific discovery.
In support of our mission, we are committed to advancing research into vascular diseases and clotting disorders, including disseminated intravascular coagulation, in part through the following ways:
Learn about exciting research areas the NHLBI is exploring about DIC.
We lead or sponsor many studies aimed at preventing, diagnosing, and treating heart, lung, blood, and sleep disorders. See if you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.
After reading our Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation Health Topic, you may be interested in additional information found in the following resources.