Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)

Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a serious, sometimes life-threatening condition in which the proteins in the blood involved in blood clotting become overactive. Blood clots form in small blood vessels throughout the body. This can disrupt normal blood flow to organs such as the kidneys and liver and can lead to organ failure. Because the clotting uses up coagulation proteins and platelets, excessive bleeding can occur. This abnormal activation of blood clotting mechanisms can develop as the result of a variety of diseases and conditions.

The goals of testing are to identify DIC, evaluate its severity, and to monitor its effects over time. There is not a single test that can be used to definitely diagnose DIC. A healthcare practitioner will consider many factors when assessing a person who may have this condition, such as signs and symptoms, presence of an underlying condition, physical examination, and medical history.

The severity and extent of DIC can change over time so laboratory testing is often performed at several intervals to monitor a person’s status. Some routine tests that may be performed include:

  • CBC (complete blood count) – includes a platelet count; in DIC, platelets are often low.
  • Blood smears from individuals with DIC often show decreased number of platelets and presence of large platelets and fragmented red cells (schistocytes).
  • PT (prothrombin time) – often prolonged with DIC as coagulation factors are consumed
  • PTT (partial thromboplastin time) – may be prolonged
  • D-dimer – a test that detects a protein that results from clot break-down; it is often markedly elevated with DIC; if normal, then DIC is unlikely.
  • Fibrinogen – one of the clotting factors; is low with DIC

A test scoring system developed by the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis may be used to evaluate a group of test results to help determine if DIC is present. The score is based on the results of a platelet count, PT, D-dimer (or fibrin degradation products) and fibrinogen. The higher the score, the more likely it is that DIC is present.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.