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Vitamin K-Deficiency Bleeding in Neonates

Kelly, Deirdre

Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: November 1999 - Volume 29 - Issue 5 - p 532

The Liver Unit, Birmingham Children's Hospital, Birmingham, England

This editorial accompanies an article. Please see: Humpl et al. Fatal late vitamin K-deficiency bleeding after oral vitamin K prophylaxis secondary to unrecognized bile duct paucity. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1999;29:594-597.

Address correspondence to Deirdre Kelly, MD, The Liver Unit, Birmingham Children's Hospital, Steelhouse Lane, Birmingham B4 6NH, England.

The reported link between intramuscular vitamin K, childhood malignancy, and leukemia has created difficulties about the appropriate prophylaxis of vitamin K-deficiency bleeding (VKPD) in neonates (1,2). Oral vitamin K1 administered at birth is effective in normal formula-fed infants but may not prevent late VKPD in breast-fed infants in whom the deficiency of vitamin K is exacerbated by the low vitamin K content of human breast milk.

A number of oral vitamin K prophylactic regimens have been evaluated, varying from a single dose of 1 mg vitamin K at birth (3) to three oral doses of 1 mg (4) or multiple oral doses (5), including oral administration of mixed micellar preparations of vitamin K (6).

Although prospective studies have demonstrated efficacy of these regimens in normal infants (5,6), it is clear that even the micellar preparation of vitamin K may not protect breast-fed infants with underlying liver disease from VKPD. This is particularly tragic, because the morbidity and mortality resulting from late VKPD are high and can be reversed (or prevented) by a single intramuscular injection of 1 mg vitamin K.

The problem is how best to prevent VKDP in high-risk infants, especially those with liver disease. Because the epidemiologic data have demonstrated a link between intramuscular vitamin K and childhood malignancy, it is unrealistic to attempt to reintroduce intramuscular injections at birth for all neonates. However, it may be possible to ensure that all breast-fed infants receive daily supplements of oral vitamin K1 (25 μg) in drop formulation, as is already marketed in The Netherlands (5). Furthermore, in addition to the recommendation of oral vitamin K prophylaxis for breast-fed infants, it should be reiterated that all breast-fed infants who have prolonged jaundice should not only have liver disease excluded (7) but should have urgent coagulation tests performed to exclude and prevent VKPD (8).

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© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.