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Overview of Vitamin K Deficiency: Symptoms, causes, prevention, and treatments

Team AckoOct 14, 2022

If you get bruised easily, your wound takes a longer time to heal, or you experience excessive bleeding, then chances are you have Vitamin K Deficiency. While this type of deficiency is not common, it can be serious and cause extreme bleeding from the nose, issues with the heart, bone loss, etc. Thus, it is vital to be aware of the signs, causes, risk factors, treatment, and prevention methods associated with Vitamin K deficiency.

Vitamin K Deficiency

Contents

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What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an essential vitamin our body needs to help clot blood properly. Blood clotting or coagulation stops excessive bleeding. 

Our body requires an array of nutrients for proper functioning; Vitamin K is one such nutrient. This fat-soluble vitamin also plays a crucial role in preventing bone loss, heart problems, and brain damage.

There are two types of Vitamin K.

1. Vitamin K1 or phylloquinone

This form of Vitamin K is present in food sources such as leafy green vegetables. 

2. Vitamin K2 menaquinone 

You can get it from animal-based foods, including fermented foods, butter, and egg yolks. Also, gut bacteria help produce this type of vitamin but in small amounts.

It is crucial to get Vitamin K from green plants or from meats and eggs regularly to support the functioning of the body.

What is Vitamin K Deficiency?

Deficiency occurs when individuals are not taking enough Vitamin K. Due to this, their body is not able to produce proteins, and it increases the risk of excessive bleeding. 

The deficiency of Vitamin K in healthy adults is rare, as they get an adequate supply of Vitamin K from food sources. 

It is also rare in infants because they are given Vitamin K prophylaxis at the time of birth. In case they become deficient, then the condition is known as Vitamin K Deficiency bleeding or VKDB.

Though the deficiency of Vitamin K is uncommon, people of any age may develop it. In such cases, it occurs mainly due to malnutrition and liver disease as a result of prolonged antibiotic consumption.

Symptoms of Vitamin K Deficiency

Here is a rundown of signs and symptoms of Vitamin K Deficiency.

  • Bleeding from nose and wounds

  • Internal bleeding in the stomach and intestine

  • Blood clots underneath the nails

  • Sudden bleeding within or around the brain (in babies)

  • Bruising easily

  • Blood in urine

  • Bloody or dark black (just like tar) stools

  • Heavy menstrual periods

Bleeding may happen due to a cut or wound, but if blood is coming out in excess, then it might be a sign that you are Vitamin K deficient.

What are the causes of Vitamin K Deficiency?

There can be different causes of Vitamin K Deficiency in newborns and adults. Let's discuss them one by one.

Vitamin K Deficiency in newborns

Babies are at increased risk for this type of deficiency because of the following.

  • Lack of Vitamin K in the mother's breast milk.

  • A newborn's intestine has not produced gut bacteria to produce Vitamin K in the first few days after birth.

  • Vitamin K did not transfer efficiently from the placenta to the baby.

  • A newborn's liver is not able to use Vitamin K well.

Vitamin K Deficiency in adults

Here are some of the reasons why adults become Vitamin K deficient.

  • Consuming a diet that is low in fat, as Vitamin K is absorbed when eaten in combination with some fat

  • Not getting enough Vitamin K from foods

  • Taking higher doses of vitamin A or E

  • Consuming a large amount of mineral oil that may hinder the absorption of Vitamin K

  • Intake of blood thinners

Apart from these, fat malabsorption (a disorder that impairs fat absorption) also causes this deficiency. Conditions associated with fat malabsorption are cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, Crohn's disease, removal of a part of the intestine during surgery, and a disorder in the intestines, bile ducts, gallbladder, and liver.

Risk factors and complications

Here’s the list of the risk factors for Vitamin K Deficiency.

  • Diarrhoea as it prevents the absorption of nutrients

  • Pregnant women

  • Older people

  • Having an alcohol dependency

  • Have cancer or chronic kidney disease

  • Malnutrition

  • Hospitalisation due to critical illness

Complications

Following are some of the Vitamin K Deficiency diseases.

  • Osteoporosis

  • Cardiovascular disease

  • Bleeding in the brain [Late-onset Vitamin K Deficiency bleeding (VKDB)]

  • Poor bone development

How to diagnose Vitamin K Deficiency

Your doctor will ask the following questions to determine if you have this deficiency.

  • Your medical history

  • About your diet

  • If you take higher doses of vitamin A or E

  • If you consume a large amount of mineral oil

  • If you have fat malabsorption disorder

  • If you take any blood thinners

Different tests 

Taking blood tests is another way of confirming the condition. Well, individuals who lack Vitamin K have high levels of inactivated Vitamin K-dependent proteins in their blood.

  • Prothrombin time (PT) test: It is a coagulation test that is performed by mixing a blood sample with a clot-promoting chemical. The normal clotting time is 11 to 13 seconds. If you are deficient in Vitamin K, your blood will take a long time to clot.

  • Vitamin K injection: Your doctor may give you an injection to see if it reduces prothrombin time, as it will confirm that you lack Vitamin K. 

  • International normalised ratio or INR: In this test, results from different labs are compared on a scale. The normal INR varies from 0.9 to 1.1. If you are deficient, it will be about 2 to 3.5.

  • Apart from these tests, your doctor can also order a urine test. If you are Vitamin K deficient, your urine will have lower levels of menadione, aglycones, and gamma-carboxyglutamic acid.

Vitamin K Deficiency treatment

There are mainly two types of treatment for Vitamin K Deficiency, which are as follows.

1. Short-term

It involves the use of injections or oral Vitamin K supplements for a certain amount of time.

2. Long-term

This type of treatment is for those with a chronic underlying condition. They have to continue with the medicine for a prolonged time.

Treatment for adults

The drug phytonadione is recommended, and its normal dose for adults ranges from 1 to 25 mg per day. Usually, it is prescribed as oral medicine. The other way of taking this drug is through injection. 

Those on anticoagulants or blood thinners should take a small dose (1 to 10 mg per day) of the same drug. Individuals with extreme bleeding can be administered fresh frozen blood instead of medicines. 

Treatment for newborns

If the bleeding disorder is detected early, then a 2 mg dose of oral Vitamin K is given, which is repeated at 2 to 4 weeks and at 6 to 8 weeks. If it is detected late, then 0.5 to 1 mg single dose is given by injection.

How to prevent Vitamin K Deficiency

The best way to ward off Vitamin K Deficiency is to consume a healthy diet. 

  • You can get Vitamin K1 from vegetable oils and green leafy vegetables like kale, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli. 

  • To get Vitamin K2, eat meat, including egg yolks and dairy products. Also, ensure you consume these foods with fats to help absorb Vitamin K.

  • Apart from these, eat a variety of fruits and veggies every day.

  • Well, there are no such rules for regular intake of Vitamin K. However, according to the NHS, 1 microgram of Vitamin K per day per kilogram of your body weight is recommended for adults. That means if you weigh 60 kg, you would need 60 micrograms (mcg) of Vitamin K every day. A 1 mcg is 1000 times less than a milligram.

  • You do not have to measure the foods to get the desired amount of Vitamin K every day. Just have a well-balanced and nutritious diet as it is enough to meet your daily need for Vitamin K.

  • Consider adding any of these food items to your diet: avocado, soybean oil, cooked spinach, beef liver, turkey, green beans, peas, full-fat milk, chicken meat, bacon, mayonnaise, cooked cabbage, cooked kale, and other green leafy vegetables.

  • Also, count on protein sources like eggs, pulses, lean meats, etc.

Frequently asked questions

Here’s a list of common questions and their answers regarding Vitamin K Deficiency.

Does Vitamin K Deficiency lead to fatigue?

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You may feel tired as low levels of Vitamin K causes anaemia which leads to weakness.

How quickly does Vitamin K work?

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Vitamin K (phytonadione) begins working in 6 to 8 hours.

Which fruit is high in Vitamin K?

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Kiwi has a significant amount of Vitamin K.

Who should not take the K2 Vitamin?

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Individuals who are allergic to vitamins or multivitamins should refrain from consuming Vitamin K2. Also, do not take this medicine if you are under 18.

What should you not take with Vitamin K?

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Avoid taking drugs like antibiotics, antacids, aspirin, blood thinners, and medicines for high cholesterol, seizures, and cancer. They hinder the effects of Vitamin K.

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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