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The diagnosis of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) should encompass both clinical and laboratory information. The International Society for Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH) DIC scoring system provides objective measurement of DIC. Where DIC is present the scoring system correlates with key clinical observations and outcomes. It is important to repeat the tests to monitor the dynamically changing scenario based on laboratory results and clinical observations.

The cornerstone of the treatment of DIC is treatment of the underlying condition. Transfusion of platelets or plasma (components) in patients with DIC should not primarily be based on laboratory results and should in general be reserved for patients who present with bleeding. In patients with DIC and bleeding or at high risk of bleeding (e.g. postoperative patients or patients due to undergo an invasive procedure) and a platelet count of <50 · 109/l transfusion of platelets should be considered.

In non-bleeding patients with DIC, prophylactic platelet transfusion is not given unless it is perceived that there is a high risk of bleeding. In bleeding patients with DIC and prolonged prothrombin time (PT) and activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), administration of fresh frozen plasma (FFP) may be useful. It should not be instituted based on laboratory tests alone but should be considered in those with active bleeding and in those requiring an invasive procedure. There is no evidence that infusion of plasma stimulates the ongoing activation of coagulation.

If transfusion of FFP is not possible in patients with bleeding because of fluid overload, consider using factor concentrates such as prothrombin complex concentrate, recognising that these will only partially correct the defect because they contain only selected factors, whereas in DIC there is a global deficiency of coagulation factors. Severe hypofibrinogenaemia (<1 g/l) that persists despite FFP replacement may be treated with fibrinogen concentrate or cryoprecipitate.

In cases of DIC where thrombosis predominates, such as arterial or venous thromboembolism, severe purpura fulminans associated with acral ischemia or vascular skin infarction, therapeutic doses of heparin should be considered. In these patients where there is perceived to be a co-existing high risk of bleeding there may be benefits in using continuous infusion unfractionated heparin (UFH) due to its short half-life and reversibility. Weight adjusted doses (e.g. 10 l/kg/h) may be used without the intention of prolonging the APTT ratio to 1Æ5–2Æ5 times the control. Monitoring the APTT in these cases may be complicated and clinical observation for signs of bleeding is important.

In critically ill, non-bleeding patients with DIC, prophylaxis for venous thromboembolism with prophylactic doses of heparin or low molecular weight heparin is recommended. Consider treating patients with severe sepsis and DIC with recombinant human activated protein C (continuous infusion, 24 lg/kg/h for 4 d). Patients at high risk of bleeding should not be given recombinant human activated protein C. Current manufacturers guidance advises against using this product in patients with platelet counts of <30 · 109/l.

In the event of invasive procedures, administration of recombinant human activated protein C should be discontinued shortly before the intervention (elimination half-life _20 min) and may be resumed a few hours later, dependent on the clinical situation. In the absence of further prospective evidence from randomised controlled trials confirming a beneficial effect of antithrombin concentrate on clinically relevant endpoints in patients with DIC and not receiving heparin, administration of antithrombin cannot be recommended. In general, patients with DIC should not be treated with antifibrinolytic agents. Patients with DIC that is characterised by a primary hyperfibrinolytic state and who present with severe bleeding could be treated with lysine analogues, such as tranexamic acid (e.g. 1 g every 8 h).      

Declaration of Interests

The BSH paid the expenses incurred during the writing of this guidance. None of the authors had conflicts of interest to declare. All authors have made a declaration of interests to the BSH and Task Force Chairs which may be viewed on request.