Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) is a rare and potentially life-threatening bleeding disorder of early infancy. Vitamin K stores are low at birth; thereafter breast-fed infants are at risk because of low concentrations in human milk. Classical VKDB occurs in the first week of life, is related to delayed or inadequate feeding and is readily prevented by small doses of vitamin K at birth. Late VKDB peaks at 3-8 weeks, typically presents with intracranial haemorrhage often due to undiagnosed cholestasis with resultant malabsorption of vitamin K. Diagnosis can be difficult but PIVKA-II measurements can provide confirmation even several days post-treatment. Without vitamin K prophylaxis, the incidence of late VKDB in Europe is 4-7 cases per 10(5) births; it is higher in SE Asia where in rural, low-income areas some 0.1% of affected infants may suffer intracranial bleeding. Late VKDB is largely preventable with parenteral vitamin K providing the best protection. The efficacy of oral prophylaxis is related to the dose and frequency of administration. Most multi-dose oral regimens provide protection for all except a small reservoir of infants with undetected hepatobiliary disease. Targeted surveillance of high-risk groups (e.g. biliary atresia) offers a novel approach to assess efficacy of prophylaxis.
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