STUDY OBJECTIVE: Our aim was to document the following in patients with septic shock and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC): (1) the influence of DIC in the mortality rate and the occurrence of organ failure; (2) the comparative prognostic value of initial antithrombin III (ATIII), protein C (PC), and protein S (PS) levels; and (3) the compared pattern of sequential ATIII, PC, and PS levels according to clinical outcome. DESIGN: Demographic data, criteria of severity, mortality in ICU, frequency of organ failure, hemodynamic and oxygenation parameters, and laboratory findings were compared in patients with septic shock according to the occurrence of DIC. Initial and sequential levels of ATIII (activity), PC (antigen and activity), PS (total and free), and C4b binding protein (C4bBP) were compared according to the outcome in patients with DIC. PATIENTS: Sixty patients with septic shock were studied. Forty-four entered the group DIC+; 16 entered the group DIC-. RESULTS: Simplified acute physiologic score (SAPS), frequency of acquired organ failure, blood lactate, and transaminase values were significantly higher in the group DIC+. The mortality rate reached 77 percent in group DIC+ vs 32 percent in DIC- (p less than 0.001). In patients with DIC, a fatal outcome was associated with higher bilirubin and transaminase levels, lower PaO2/FIo2 ratio, Vo2, Do2 and O2 extraction. In the group DIC+, all patients but two had severe deficiencies in ATIII and PC levels. Significant correlations were found between initial ATIII and PC levels, PC and free PS levels, and free PS and C4bBP levels. Initial ATIII levels had the best prognostic value for prediction of subsequent death. Serial measurements were consistent with a prolonged ATIII and PC deficiency with significantly different levels between survivors and nonsurvivors. CONCLUSIONS: DIC is a strong predictor of death and multiple organ failure in patients with septic shock. Sequential ATIII, PC, and PS measurements were consistent with prolonged consumption or inhibition that might account for a sustained procoagulant state and inhibition of fibrinolysis. The initial ATIII level was the best laboratory predictor of death in these patients.