High-Risk Newborns - Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn)

What is vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) is a bleeding problem that occurs in a newborn during the first few days of life. VKDB was previously called hemorrhagic disease of the newborn.

What causes vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Babies are normally born with low levels of vitamin K, an essential factor in blood clotting. A deficiency in vitamin K is the main cause of VKDB.

Who is affected by vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

Vitamin K deficiency may result in bleeding in a very small percentage of babies. Babies at risk for developing VKDB include the following:

  • babies who do not receive preventive vitamin K in an injection at birth
  • exclusively breastfed babies (breast milk contains less vitamin K than cow's milk formula.)
  • babies whose mothers have seizure disorders and take anti-convulsant medications

Why is vitamin K deficiency bleeding a concern?

Without the clotting factor, bleeding occurs, and severe bleeding or hemorrhage can result.

What are the symptoms of vitamin K deficiency bleeding?

The following are the most common symptoms of hemorrhagic disease of the newborn. However, each baby may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • blood in the baby's bowel movements
  • blood in urine
  • oozing around the umbilical cord

The symptoms of VKDB may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your baby's physician for a diagnosis.

How is vitamin K deficiency bleeding diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, a diagnosis is based on the signs of bleeding and by laboratory tests for blood clotting times.

Treatment for vitamin K deficiency bleeding:

Specific treatment for VKDB will be determined by your baby's physician based on:

  • your baby's gestational age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your baby's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends giving every newborn baby an injection of vitamin K after delivery to prevent this potentially life-threatening disease.

If bleeding occurs, vitamin K is also given. Blood transfusions may also be needed if bleeding is severe.

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