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Vitamin K, an update for the paediatrician.

INTRODUCTION: This review summarizes current knowledge on vitamin K for the paediatrician. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, present in plants as phylloquinone and produced by bacteria as menaquinone. It is acting as a co-factor for gamma-glutamyl carboxylase. This enzyme is responsible for post-translational modification of some glutamate side chains to gamma-carboxyglutamate. The majority of gamma-carboxylated proteins function in blood coagulation; others play a role in calcium homeostasis.

DATA: Newborn babies are at particular risk of vitamin K deficiency, as placental transfer is limited and human milk is a poor source. Vitamin K prophylaxis at birth effectively prevents vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB), formerly known as "haemorrhagic disease of the newborn". Recent epidemiological studies provide data on the effectiveness of different administration routes and dosing schemes. Infants of mothers taking drugs that inhibit vitamin K are at risk of early VKDB and should receive 1 mg intramuscular (i.m.) as soon as possible after birth. Classic VKDB is prevented by intramuscular as well as by oral administration of 1 mg vitamin K. In exclusively breast-fed infants, single i.m. administration at birth is also effectively preventing (rare) late VKDB but single oral administration is not. If given orally, prophylaxis should be continued by either weekly administration of 1 mg till 12 weeks or repeating 2 mg at weeks 1 and 4. Daily administration of 25 microg offers insufficient protection. The only infants not fully protected in this way are those with yet unrecognised liver disease.

CONCLUSIONS: Further work is needed before firm recommendations can be made regarding dose in preterm infants and in patients with fat malabsorption/cholestasis or regarding the role of vitamin K in the prevention of osteoporosis.

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