Background: Diffuse hemorrhage in surgical patients with normal coagulation parameters may be caused by vitamin C deficiency and is rapidly reversed by vitamin C replacement.
Methods: Patients treated on a surgical service were entered into a clinical registry over a 12-month period if they experienced diffuse hemorrhage in the face of normal coagulation parameters and a plasma ascorbic acid level < 0.6 mg/dL (normal 0.6-2.0 mg/dL). Oral vitamin C replacement was administered after determination of plasma ascorbic acid level. Response to therapy, including subsequent bleeding events, need for blood transfusions, and demographic data including social and dietary history were retrospectively reviewed from hospital and outpatient clinic records.
Results: Twelve patients with bleeding diatheses and low plasma ascorbic acid levels were identified. Plasma ascorbic acid levels were 0.1 to 0.5 mg/dL (mean, 0.3 mg/dL). There were 6 men and 6 women; age ranged from 46 to 90 years (mean, 78 years). Coagulation parameters were normal in all patients. Diffuse postoperative bleeding from nonsurgical causes was evident in 10 of 12 patients. Four patients, 2 of whom had operations, presented with chronic recurrent blood loss from the gastrointestinal tract. Each patient received 250 to 1000 mg of vitamin C replacement daily. Within 24 hours of vitamin C administration, there was no further evidence of clinical bleeding nor need for subsequent blood transfusions in any patient.
Conclusions: Vitamin C deficiency should be included in the differential diagnosis of nonspecific bleeding in surgical patients. Prolonged hospitalization, severe illness, and poor diet create vitamin C deficiency with significant clinical consequences. Oral vitamin C replacement rapidly reverses the effects of this disorder.