Home Laboratory valuesvitamin k Vitamin K Deficiency: Cause, Symptoms and Treatment

Vitamin K Deficiency: Cause, Symptoms and Treatment

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 126 views

A vitamin K deficiency manifests itself in increased bleeding from injuries, bruises, nosebleeds and bleeding from the mucous membranes. A deficiency is – with the exception of newborns – very rare. The causes are usually diseases (e.g. intestinal diseases), more rarely a lack of vitamin K is diet-related. Read more about possible causes of a vitamin K deficiency, which symptoms it triggers and how a deficiency can be corrected!

quick overview

  • Symptoms include increased and/or frequent bleeding (e.g. from the nose , a wound, sometimes in the stomach or intestines ), bruises. Early signs include poor concentration, fatigue , muscle pain and headaches .
  • Treatment: Vitamin K in tablet form, as an infusion or via an injection into the muscle
  • Causes: Frequent causes of a vitamin K deficiency are chronic diseases (e.g. gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis ) and prolonged use of antibiotics.
  • Diagnosis: Discussion with the doctor, physical examination, determination of blood values
  • Prevention: administration of vitamin K to newborns (prophylaxis), healthy lifestyle (eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding stress)

How does a vitamin K deficiency manifest itself?

A lack of vitamin K manifests itself, for example, in the fact that victims of injuries bleed more and faster than usual. The reason for this is that the body’s coagulation system ( hemostasis ) becomes unbalanced when there is a lack of vitamin K. It, along with various other factors, is responsible for the rapid stopping of bleeding after injury. If the concentration of vitamin K is reduced, the tendency to bleed is increased.

Affected people already get bruises from small bumps, which only slowly disappear again. Those affected often also bleed more from the nose and mucous membranes (e.g. bleeding gums when brushing teeth).

In severe cases, organ bleeding is possible, for example in the stomach and intestines (eg due to ulcers). Sometimes people who have a stomach bleed vomit blood . This can also appear in the urine or stool. Sometimes the stool turns pitch black due to internal bleeding.

As a result of long-term vitamin K deficiency, bone density decreases and the likelihood of bone fractures increases. In newborns and infants, vitamin K deficiency can cause bleeding in the brain (cerebral hemorrhage), which can be life-threatening for the child.

A slight vitamin K deficiency often manifests itself as concentration problems. Those affected are tired, listless and susceptible to infections. You have muscle aches and headaches. However, these are rather unspecific symptoms that also occur in other diseases and deficiency states.

What other consequences can occur?

Severe vitamin K deficiency increases the risk of conditions such as:

  • Hardening of the arteries ( arteriosclerosis )
  • Bone loss ( osteoporosis )
  • joint inflammation
  • Insulin resistance and, as a possible consequence, type 2 diabetes: Insulin causes tissue cells such as muscle cells to absorb sugar from the blood. In the case of insulin resistance, the hormone insulin has little or no effect.
  • Certain cancers (e.g. liver cancer )

In addition, a lack of vitamin K in babies can lead to life-threatening bleeding (morbus haemorrhagicus neonatorum), especially cerebral hemorrhage.

What can you do about a vitamin K deficiency?

treatment in babies

Newborns and babies get their vitamin K needs from breast milk. However, in most cases this is not enough to provide the child with sufficient vitamin K. Therefore, pediatricians give all babies extra vitamin K as drops over the mouth or as a solution that is injected under the skin (vitamin K prophylaxis) immediately after birth (U1) and as part of the second (U2) and third (U3) check-ups ).

treatment in adults

If an adult develops a vitamin K deficiency, the doctor treats the cause (e.g. certain gastrointestinal or liver diseases) or eliminates the deficiency with vitamin K supplements. Depending on the cause, the doctor administers the vitamin K to the affected person as a tablet, as an infusion or via an injection into a muscle. This usually makes it possible to prevent consequential damage at an early stage.

If a medication (e.g. blood thinners in the case of an increased risk of thrombosis) is the cause of the vitamin deficiency, the doctor adjusts the dose and/or administers additional vitamin K if necessary.

Where is a lot of vitamin K in it?

Green vegetables are rich in vitamin K. These include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and lettuce. Herbs such as chives, legumes, milk, carrots, soybeans, algae and vegetable oils (e.g. soybean oil, rapeseed oil) also contain a lot of vitamin K. In addition, bacteria in the intestine are able to produce the vitamin themselves.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that is best absorbed by the body when consumed with some fat (e.g. oil, butter).

How does a vitamin K deficiency develop?

Vitamin K deficiency is common in the following cases:

Disruption of the intestinal flora

If the intestinal flora is disturbed, the vitamin K-producing bacteria are not available in sufficient quantities. This happens, for example, when those affected take antibiotics over a longer period of time. This also kills beneficial intestinal bacteria, which are responsible for the absorption of vitamin K in the intestine, among other things.

Stubborn intestinal infections and other gastrointestinal diseases such as long-lasting diarrhea , chronic intestinal inflammation (e.g. ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), irritable bowel syndrome, gluten intolerance or celiac disease are possible triggers.

The surgical removal of sections of the intestine may also lead to a disturbed intestinal flora. All of this favors a vitamin K deficiency in the long term.

fat absorption disorder

Another possible cause of vitamin K deficiency is the so-called fat absorption disorder. The absorption of fats from the intestine is disturbed (eg triggered by Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis). Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin and is absorbed by the body together with fats, a vitamin K deficiency develops.

Disorder of bile function

People with a disturbed or restricted bile function (e.g. due to a blockage of the bile ducts) are also susceptible to vitamin K deficiency, since there is then a lack of bile in the intestine. And this normally ensures that fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin K are absorbed into the intestinal cells.

cystic fibrosis

Vitamin K deficiency is also not uncommon in people with cystic fibrosis . Their pancreas often does not produce enough enzymes . They normally help the body properly absorb nutrients from food. The enzyme deficiency can lead to a lack of vitamin K.

liver damage

Since the liver stores and metabolizes vitamin K, liver damage (e.g. liver cirrhosis as a result of alcoholism ) is a possible trigger for vitamin K deficiency states.

medication

Medications – such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), antibiotics, bile acid scavengers, drugs to treat epilepsy (anticonvulsants) or large amounts of drugs containing salicylic acid – sometimes trigger a vitamin K deficiency. The drugs either inhibit the absorption of vitamin K or accelerate its breakdown in the body.

Other causes of a vitamin K deficiency are malnutrition or malnutrition : those affected by an unbalanced diet or malnutrition supply their body with too little vitamin K through food. Obesity ( adiposity ) is also a cause, as overweight people store more vitamin K in fatty tissue, where it is no longer sufficiently available for the body.

Vitamin K deficiency is very rare in healthy people who eat a balanced diet.

Vitamin K deficiency in newborns

Newborns and babies are at increased risk of vitamin K deficiency. A deficiency occurs in them, for example, if the mother’s vitamin K is not sufficiently transported to the child via the placenta (reduced vitamin K storage capacity).

Children who do not receive vitamin K prophylaxis after birth and are exclusively breastfed are also at risk. Because breast milk contains only small amounts of the vitamin, fully breastfed children may not be adequately supplied with vitamin K. The risk of vitamin K deficiency in breastfed children is also increased if the mother is taking certain medications (antiepileptics, blood thinners or antibiotics).

In addition, the intestines of infants are not yet sufficiently colonized by bacteria that produce vitamin K. The production of coagulation factors (proteins that help to stop bleeding) is also not as pronounced as in older children. This is one reason why some cases of newborns have an increased incidence of bleeding.

How common is vitamin K deficiency?

Vitamin K is contained in food in sufficient quantities and is also provided by the intestinal flora. Therefore, vitamin K deficiency is rare in people who eat a balanced diet.

How does the doctor make a diagnosis?

If symptoms occur (e.g. increased nosebleeds ), the family doctor is the first point of contact. He first conducts a detailed discussion with the person concerned ( anamnesis ). He then performs a physical exam.

If you have unusually frequent or heavy bleeding, talk to your doctor about it!

conversation with the doctor

First, the doctor asks the patient which symptoms (e.g. nosebleeds, tiredness) they are experiencing, how often they are and whether there are any possible causes (e.g. taking antibiotics). The doctor also asks questions about nutrition (e.g. what do you eat on a typical day?). This gives him an indication of whether those affected are potentially getting enough vitamin K from food.

Physical examination

The doctor then performs a physical exam. He measures blood pressure, pulse rate, body temperature and, if necessary, listens to breathing with the help of a stethoscope to rule out other causes.

After that, if a vitamin K deficiency is suspected, the doctor will take blood and have the blood samples analyzed in the laboratory. On the basis of the blood test , the doctor usually quickly determines a deficiency if certain values ​​​​are outside the reference range. As a rule, the blood coagulation values ​​(Quick or INR value ) are sufficient to make a reliable diagnosis.

How can you prevent a vitamin K deficiency?

In order to prevent a vitamin K deficiency in babies, the pediatrician administers additional vitamin K (vitamin K prophylaxis) after the birth and as part of the first check-up.

In order to prevent a possible vitamin K deficiency in adults, it is advisable to ensure a balanced diet. Therefore, include foods in your daily diet that cover your vitamin K needs. Examples include: soybeans, herbs like parsley and chives, spinach, lettuce, kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli.

A healthy lifestyle helps prevent diseases that can lead to vitamin K deficiency. For example, it is important that you not only eat a balanced diet, but also exercise regularly and avoid stress.

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