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Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, is a complicated condition that can occur when someone has severe sepsis or septic shock. Both blood clotting and difficulty with clotting may occur, causing a vicious cycle. Small blood clots can develop throughout your bloodstream, especially in the microscopic blood vessels called capillaries, blocking the blood flow to many parts of your body, including your limbs and your organs. This blood flow bring oxygens and nutrients to the tissues. On the reverse side of the cycle, DIC can increase bleeding. The body uses up so many of the blood clotting proteins for the multiple blood clots in the blood vessels that there are not enough left to clot the blood elsewhere.

There are several medical conditions that can cause DIC, including sepsis. DIC affects about 35% of patients who have sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

Symptoms of DIC

  • Blood clots
  • Bruising, mottling of the skin
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Bleeding, from many sites in the body

Treatment of DIC

When someone has DIC caused by sepsis, the primary task is to treat the sepsis and the infection that caused it. Treating the clots is also important. Heparin, an anticoagulant, often called a blood thinner, usually dissolves clots and prevents new ones. When someone receives heparin, their blood is tested regularly for its ability to clot – whether it is clotting too quickly or not quickly enough – so the heparin dose can be adjusted as needed.

A transfusion of platelets may be necessary. Platelets are a component of your blood that helps form clots.

Complications from DIC

If clots prevent blood from reaching parts of the body, tissue damage occurs. For example, if clots prevent blood from circulating properly to the hands or feet, the tissue may start to turn splotchy, then bluish in color (cyanotic), and then black (gangrenous) if the skin dies.  Once the tissue is at this stage, it must be removed. For some people, this may be a small patch of skin or a few fingers or toes. For others, it could mean amputation of one or more limbs.

If blood isn’t effectively reaching vital organs like your kidneys, liver, or lungs, they may have trouble functioning. For example, your kidneys may not be able to effectively filter urine. When this happens, you may need dialysis. If the kidneys regain function, you may no longer need dialysis. Or if you are having difficulty breathing because of DIC, the doctors may choose to place you on a ventilator, a machine that pushes air into your lungs, effectively breathing for you. This is removed when you can breathe again on your own.

Long-term outlook

The long-term outlook for people who have DIC depends on how much damage the clots  may have caused to the body’s tissues. About half of those with DIC survive, but some may with live with organ dysfunction or the results of amputations.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

what is sepsis

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Read more about disseminated intravascular coagulation at the National Institutes of Health.

Updated November 1, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Laura Lafollette

Survivor

Five months ago my life changed forever. I awoke unable to walk, talk, and as my blood pressure bottomed, my face turned purple then blue. I was rushed to the ER where they discovered my IUD caused me to develop toxic shock syndrome and DIC. (Sepsis and Toxic Shock Syndrome, Sepsis and DIC) These deadly bacteria gave me a 1% chance of survival. I was transferred to another hospital to have both hands amputated. (Sepsis and Amputations) I then spent another 10 days. During the worldwide corona virus. I went through all this alone no one could come in or ... Read Full Story

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Eli Arons

Survivor, Survivor

My name is Eli, and I am a septic shock survivor. (Sepsis and Septic Shock) I was born in Eritrea but raised in Germany where I still live. I was 36 yrs old when I went into septic shock. I’ve had extreme period pain since my youth. I tried many therapies but none worked. One doctor finally recommended laparoscopy and endometrial abrasion to get rid of the problem once and for all, both routine surgeries. (Sepsis and Surgery) After this routine procedure, the doctor told me everything went well and nothing vicious had been found, and they would discharge me ... Read Full Story

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Shaninlea Visser

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I would love to share my story with you and you can read up on me on my Facebook page “Shan Living Life”, through all of this I remain positive, determined and motivated to get my life back on track. I became a quadruple amputee due to septicemia with DIC in January 2017. (Sepsis and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), Sepsis and Amputations) I was bitten by a mongoose on January 15, 2017 and became ill on the night of January 17, 2017. (Sepsis and Animal Bites) I ended up in ICU on January 18, 2017, and was put on a ... Read Full Story

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Ada G.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

Late in the day on March 14, 2018, our little 2 yr old, Ada got a fever and began throwing up. We gave her Tylenol and Pedialyte that night and took her to her PCP early the next morning. The doctor said there was a little stomach bug going around and prescribed Zofran and said come back in 48 hrs if it persisted. 2 days later as we prepared to take her back in, she had a febrile seizure. We called 911 and they transported her to the local hospital. In the ED they had difficulty drawing blood, her pulse ... Read Full Story

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faces of sepsis, sepsis

Russell Leonard

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

On November 4, 2018 I went to the E.R. and was diagnosed with a kidney stone. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) They sent me home to pass the stone (even though my blood pressure was low at discharge). Within hours I had a fever and was extremely weak. I went back to the hospital and my blood pressure was 49/27. I passed out and woke up with 2 IVs and alarms going off incessantly. I was in and out of consciousness. From there I was told I was in septic shock and was transferred to the ICU. I was intubated for ... Read Full Story

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Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, is a complicated condition that can occur when someone has severe sepsis or septic shock. Both blood clotting and difficulty with clotting may occur, causing a vicious cycle. Small blood clots can develop throughout your bloodstream, especially in the microscopic blood vessels called capillaries, blocking the blood flow to many parts of your body, including your limbs and your organs. This blood flow bring oxygens and nutrients to the tissues. On the reverse side of the cycle, DIC can increase bleeding. The body uses up so many of the blood clotting proteins for the multiple blood clots in the blood vessels that there are not enough left to clot the blood elsewhere.