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Traumatic coagulopathy-Part 1: Pathophysiology and diagnosis


  • Lee Palmer DVM, DACVECC,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
    • Address correspondence and request for reprints sent toDr. Palmer, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, 612 Hoerlein Hall, Auburn, AL 36849. Email:

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  • Linda Martin DVM, MS, DACVECC

    1. Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University, Auburn, AL
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  • The authors declare no conflict on interests.



To review the current literature in reference to the pathophysiology and diagnostic modalities available for acute traumatic coagulopathy (ATC) in relationship to traumatic hemorrhagic shock.


Posttraumatic hemorrhage is responsible for one of the leading causes of preventable human deaths worldwide. Acute traumatic coagulopathy is an endogenous hypocoagulable condition that has been observed during the immediate (< 1 hour) posttraumatic period. Phenotypically, ATC manifests as a state of systemic hypocoagulability and hyperfibrinolysis. Although different functional mechanisms have been proposed for causing ATC, it is universally thought to be a manifestation of severe tissue injury, shock-induced hypoperfusion, systemic inflammation, and endothelial damage. Excessive activation of the thrombin-thrombomodulin activated Protein C pathway, catecholamine-induced endothelial damage as well as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) with a fibrinolytic phenotype are all hypotheses that have been proposed in attempts to explain the functional mechanism of ATC.


An accurate and reliable test remains to be validated for ATC. Traditional coagulation assays (activated partial thromboplastin times and prothrombin times) along with platelet count and fibrinogen concentrations have been used more commonly. Viscoelastic tests (thromboelastography and rotational thromboelastometry) are currently being investigated as a more predictive modality for identifying and guiding therapy for ATC.


Damage control resuscitation and hemostatic resuscitation are gaining favor as the optimal resuscitative strategies for hemorrhagic shock and ATC. Antifibrinolytics may also play a role when hyperfibrinolysis is present.


Massive hemorrhage accounts for 30–56% of prehospital posttraumatic deaths in people, with coagulopathic hemorrhage remaining one of the major causes of preventable deaths within the first 24 hours posttrauma. Ten to twenty-five percent of human trauma patients experience ATC, which has been shown to prolong hemorrhage, deter resuscitative efforts, promote sepsis, and increase mortality by at least 4-fold. Prognosis in veterinary patients is not currently known.