Known variously as disseminated intravascular coagulation, defibrination consumption coagulopathy or, more simply, as defibrination, disseminated intravascular coagulation is a serious epiphenomenon that occurs most often as a complicating factor of an underlying disease process. Although frequently triggered by underlying disease such as infection or tumor, if not recognized and treated appropriately, disseminated intravascular coagulation alone may lead to the patient's death as a result of hemorrhage or thrombosis, or both, of vital organs. Frequently, it may only manifest itself as an abnormality of coagulation tests, causing no immediate problem for the patient, and potentially normalizing when the inciting cause is appropriately managed. The central process that marks disseminated intravascular coagulation is the generation of thrombin in the circulating blood by means of the activation of the coagulation mechanism, leading to the conversion of fibrinogen to fibrin, which, in turn, may lead to thrombosis mainly of the microcirculation. Because platelets and coagulation factors are consumed and fibrinolysis is enhanced during the coagulation process, hemorrhage may also ensue. Although disseminated intravascular coagulation is frequently encountered in medical and obstetric patients, the difficulty in diagnosis and controversy regarding optimal therapy are frustrating for both patient and physician. By understanding the pathophysiology of disseminated intravascular coagulation and combining clinical observation and laboratory data, one can arrive at the appropriate diagnosis. Therapy must be individualized, and assessment of the benefit versus risk ratio of intervention must be made. Early recognition of acute and life-threatening disseminated intravascular coagulation can be lifesaving with appropriate supportive measures. © 1986, American College of Cardiology Foundation. All rights reserved.
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