Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC)

Author: Marisa Healy BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: May 10, 2023

What is disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC)?

When your body needs to stop bleeding, it makes blood clots. In disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), your body makes clots throughout your body when they are not needed. This uses up your body’s clotting factors (the parts of blood needed to make a clot), which leads to bleeding. These clots can also block blood flow to organs, leading to organ failure.

DIC is an oncologic emergency, which is a serious health problem caused by the cancer itself or its treatment. Oncologic emergencies need to be treated right away.

What causes DIC?

Cancer, injury, inflammation (swelling), immune reactions, and infection can cause DIC.

What are the symptoms of DIC?

Symptoms may be:

  • Bruising more than normal and bleeding (from gums, nose, and rectum or vagina).
  • Leg swelling, pain, redness, or warmth.
  • Petechiae (red dots on the surface of your skin).
  • Chest pain.

How is DIC diagnosed?

DIC is diagnosed using blood tests. Labs checked are your CBC (complete blood count), platelet count, prothrombin time (PT), partial thromboplastin time (PTT), fibrin degradation product, d-dimer, and serum fibrinogen.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on what is causing the DIC. The treatment focuses on supportive care measures, such as transfusions of platelets, clotting factors, and cryoprecipitate replacement to try to stop the bleeding. This supportive care is given at the same time as treatment for the cancer if that is the cause of DIC.

When should I call my care team?

If you have any DIC-related symptoms, like abnormal bleeding or bruising, call your care team right away. If you are bleeding and unable to get it to stop, call 911 right away.


MedLine Plus. Disseminated intravascular coagulation. (2019). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000573.htm

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2022). Blood clotting disorders: Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). Taken from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/disseminated-intravascular-coagulation#:~:text=What%20is%20DIC%3F,body's%20normal%20blood%20clotting%20process.

NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2019). Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/disseminated-intravascular-coagulation


July 26, 2022


by Rodney Warner, JD