Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) is a complex and multifaceted disorder characterized by the activation of coagulation and fibrinolytic pathways, consumption of coagulation factors, and depletion of coagulation regulatory proteins. The introduction into the circulation of cellular debris characterized by strong thromboplastic activity due to tissue factor exposition or release (in or from burned tissues), which can thereby activate extrinsic pathway of coagulation system and trigger massive thrombin generation when present in sufficient concentration, represents the most plausible biological explanation to support the development of intravascular coagulation in patients with burn injury. Severe burns left untreated might also lead to an immunological and inflammatory response (activation of the complement cascade), which can amplify fibrinolysis and blood clotting. Overall, the real prevalence of DIC in patients with burns is as yet unclear. Postmortem, retrospective, and even longitudinal investigations are in fact biased by several factors, such as the objective difficulty to establish whether DIC might have occurred as a primary complication of burns or rather as a consequence of other superimposed pathologies (e.g., sepsis, multiple organ failure), the different diagnostic criteria for assessing DIC, and the heterogeneity of the patient samples studied. Nevertheless, the current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that biochemical changes suggestive for DIC (hypercoagulability, hypo- and hyperfibrinolysis) are commonplace in patients with burn trauma, and their severity increases exponentially with the severity of injury. Overt DIC seems to occur especially in critically ill burn patients or in those with severe burns (up to third degree) and large involvement of body surface area, in whom an appropriate therapy might be effective to prevent the otherwise fulminant course. Although early prophylaxis with antithrombin concentrates holds promises, especially in the acute phase of thermal injury, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm the benefit of this therapeutic approach. © 2010 by Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.
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