Introduction

Simultaneous coagulation and haemorrhage caused by the initial formation of thrombi which consume clotting factors (factors 5,8) and platelets, ultimately leading to bleeding.

Aetiology

Causes include:
  • Infection
  • Malignancy
  • Trauma e.g. major surgery, burns, shock, dissecting aortic aneurysm
  • Liver disease
  • Obstetric complications

Pathophysiology

Under homeostatic conditions, coagulation and fibrinolysis are coupled. The activation of the coagulation cascade yields thrombin that converts fibrinogen to fibrin; the stable fibrin clot being the final product of hemostasis. The fibrinolytic system breaks down fibrinogen and fibrin. Activation of the fibrinolytic system generates plasmin (in the presence of thrombin), which is responsible for the lysis of fibrin clots. The breakdown of fibrinogen and fibrin results in polypeptides (fibrin degradation products). In a state of homeostasis, the presence of plasmin is critical, as it is the central proteolytic enzyme of coagulation and is also necessary for fibrinolysis.

In DIC, the processes of coagulation and fibrinolysis are dysregulated, and the result is widespread clotting with resultant bleeding. Regardless of the triggering event of DIC, once initiated, the pathophysiology of DIC is similar in all conditions. One critical mediator of DIC is the release of a transmembrane glycoprotein (tissue factor =TF). TF is present on the surface of many cell types (including endothelial cells, macrophages, and monocytes) and is not normally in contact with the general circulation, but is exposed to the circulation after vascular damage. For example, TF is released in response to exposure to cytokines (particularly interleukin 1), tumour necrosis factor, and endotoxin. This plays a major role in the development of DIC in septic conditions. TF is also abundant in tissues of the lungs, brain, and placenta. This helps to explain why DIC readily develops in patients with extensive trauma. Upon activation, TF binds with coagulation factors that then triggers the extrinsic pathway (via Factor VII) which subsequently triggers the intrinsic pathway (XII to XI to IX) of coagulation.

Clinical features

Investigations

A typical blood picture includes:
  • Low platelets
  • Prolonged APTT, prothrombin and bleeding time
  • Fibrin degradation products are often raised
  • Schistocytes due to microangiopathic haemolytic anaemia



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