A new patient has been brought to the intensive care from the C-section suite. The baby is healthy with normal APGAR scores. During closing, the surgeon noted a hemorrhage occurring in the abdomen. After the prolonged procedure to repair the artery was concluded, the patient had received 15 units of packed red blood cells, 10 units of fresh frozen plasma, and 5 units of platelets. The patient is in the ICU at risk for disseminated intravascular coagulopathy (DIC).


Disseminated Intravascular Coagulopathy (DIC) is a complex disorder characterized by the abnormal activation of blood clotting mechanisms throughout the body. It can occur as a result of various underlying conditions, including sepsis, trauma, malignancy, and obstetric complications such as placental abruption or amniotic fluid embolism. This paper will discuss the pathophysiology, clinical manifestations, and management of DIC in the context of the given scenario of a patient at risk for DIC following a hemorrhage during a C-section.

Pathophysiology of DIC

DIC is initiated by the release of procoagulant substances into the blood, leading to widespread activation of the clotting cascade and the formation of microthrombi within the small blood vessels. This consumes clotting factors and platelets, resulting in a paradoxical bleeding diathesis. Furthermore, the microthrombi can impair blood flow to organs and cause organ dysfunction.

In the context of the patient in question, the initial hemorrhage during the C-section has likely triggered the release of tissue factor or other procoagulant substances into the bloodstream. This, in turn, leads to activation of the clotting cascade and the formation of microthrombi. Given the extensive blood product transfusion received by the patient, there is a high likelihood of ongoing consumption of clotting factors and platelets, exacerbating the prothrombotic state.

Clinical Manifestations of DIC

Patients with DIC can present with a wide-ranging spectrum of clinical manifestations depending on the underlying cause, extent of organ dysfunction, and severity of the coagulopathy. Common signs and symptoms include:

1. Bleeding: DIC causes a paradoxical bleeding tendency due to the depletion of clotting factors and platelets. Patients may have spontaneous bleeding from various sites, including mucous membranes, surgical wounds, or intravenous sites. They may also exhibit petechiae, ecchymoses, or purpura.

2. Organ dysfunction: The microthrombi that form in DIC can impair blood flow to various organs, leading to organ dysfunction. The most frequently affected organs include the kidneys, liver, and lungs. Renal dysfunction may manifest as oliguria or anuria, while liver dysfunction may present as jaundice or increased transaminases. In severe cases, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) may develop due to impaired gas exchange.

3. Laboratory abnormalities: DIC is associated with characteristic laboratory findings indicative of both a consumptive coagulopathy and increased fibrinolysis. This includes a prolonged prothrombin time (PT) and activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), decreased fibrinogen levels, and elevated levels of fibrin degradation products (D-dimer).

4. Underlying condition-specific manifestations: In the context of obstetric complications, such as the hemorrhage during the C-section in this case, additional signs may be present. For example, placental abruption may be associated with fetal distress or uterine tenderness, whereas amniotic fluid embolism may cause sudden hypotension, respiratory distress, or cardiac arrest.

Management of DIC

The management of DIC involves addressing both the underlying cause and the coagulopathy itself. The primary goal is to control the underlying condition, as this will help limit ongoing activation of the clotting cascade. In the given scenario, this involves addressing the hemorrhage and ensuring stable hemostasis.

Additionally, the coagulopathy should be managed through supportive measures. This includes administering blood products to replenish clotting factors and platelets. The specific ratios and thresholds for transfusion vary based on the clinical situation, but a common approach is to aim for a platelet count above 50,000 cells/mm3 and a fibrinogen level above 1-1.5 g/L. In severe cases, additional measures such as recombinant activated factor VII or antifibrinolytic agents may be considered.


In summary, the patient in the given scenario is at risk for developing DIC following a hemorrhage during a C-section. DIC is a complex disorder characterized by the abnormal activation of blood clotting mechanisms. It manifests with a paradoxical bleeding tendency, organ dysfunction, and characteristic laboratory findings. The management of DIC involves addressing the underlying cause and supportive measures to correct the coagulopathy. Close monitoring and prompt intervention are crucial to improving patient outcomes in this high-risk situation.

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