DIC always occurs in response to another type of disease or trauma. DIC is usually an acute syndrome, although it may be chronic in patients with cancer or more longstanding conditions. Sepsis is the most common cause of DIC, with a prevalence of 7 to 50%.

Conditions that may precede its development are cardiac and peripheral vascular disorders, transfusion reactions, sepsis, viremias, liver disease, leukemia, metastatic cancer, burn injuries, and obstetric complications (abruptio placentae, pregnancy-induced hypertension, saline abortion, amniotic fluid embolism, or a retained dead fetus). It is not known how these disorders trigger the onset of DIC, but they activate the intrinsic or extrinsic pathway of the coagulation cascade. Some experts suggest that these disorders cause a foreign protein to be released into the circulation and that the vascular endothelium is injured. Others note that one of the following clinical situations needs to be present in order for DIC to occur: arterial hypotension, hypoxemia, academia, and stasis of capillary blood flow.

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