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A 29-year-old man presented to the emergency department (ED) after a motorcycle accident. Upon arrival to the ED he was found to have suffered a crush injury to his left temple. He was intubated and underwent urgent evacuation of an epidural hematoma. The next day he developed progressive hypotension and spiking fevers. Oozing from multiple line and venipuncture sites was noted. His hemoglobin and platelet count began to decline and his prothrombin time (PT) and partial thromboplastin time (PTT), which were initially normal, started to rise. His liver function test showed a rise in transaminases.

What is the differential diagnosis?

The differential diagnosis includes the following:

  • Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura

  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura

  • Disseminated intravascular coagulation

  • Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia

The most likely diagnosis in this clinical setting is disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). DIC is a syndrome, not a diagnosis. It is an acquired state that occurs as a result of a number of underlying conditions (Table 45-1). For the purpose of this review, we will focus on acute DIC. In the setting of DIC, there is global activation of the coagulation system with formation of fibrin within the circulation. Fibrin deposition leads to thrombosis and occlusion of small vessels, with subsequent end-organ damage. At the same time, depletion of platelets and clotting factors can also lead to bleeding.1

Table 45-1.Etiology of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation

In the clinical scenario described above, DIC may be due to his traumatic brain injury as well as his sepsis. The brain has a high concentration of tissue thromboplastin, which has a tendency to become prothrombotic when released into systemic circulation.2 He is also bacteremic. Sepsis may cause marked activity of the inflammatory system, and inflammation-induced activation of coagulation is a well-recognized phenomenon.3 Severe sepsis may be complicated by DIC in about 35% of cases.4

What are the clinical manifestations of DIC?

DIC is a clinical diagnosis of a syndrome. Clinical manifestations include5:

  • Thrombosis

  • Bleeding

  • Renal dysfunction

  • Hepatic dysfunction

  • Shock

On physical examination one may note cool, mottled extremities; petechiae; ecchymoses; or hemorrhages at the site of invasive procedures. From a laboratory standpoint, there is not one single laboratory test in isolation that can determine the diagnosis of DIC. Instead, DIC is a clinical syndrome, and laboratory data help support clinical suspicion (Table 45-2).

Table 45-2.Laboratory Characteristics of DIC

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