Vitamin K deficiency bleeding: early history and recent trends in the United Kingdom

Early Hum Dev. 2010 Jul:86 Suppl 1:63-5. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2010.01.017. Epub 2010 Feb 18.


At the start of the 20th century the mechanisms of haemostasis were virtually unknown. Townsend had coined the term 'Haemorrhagic disease of the newborn' in 1894 but it was not until the discovery of vitamin K ('Koagulation vitamin') by Dam and others in the 1930s that the condition became understood, allowing treatment and prophylaxis. Methods of prophylaxis (preparations used, doses and routes of administration), still widely debated, have varied with time and from one country to another. The formation of the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit in the 1980s has allowed a series of prospective population studies of Vitamin K deficiency bleeding (VKDB) in the United Kingdom (UK) and Ireland which, together with contemporaneous surveys of practices of vitamin K prophylaxis, have greatly improved our understanding of the condition and informed practices of prophylaxis. In the UK prophylaxis (by injection or by mouth) is now offered to every newborn baby and VKDB is very rare, most cases occurring in breastfed babies whose parents have refused prophylaxis; by contrast, in developing countries most babies do not receive prophylaxis and VKDB is probably a common (but poorly documented) cause of death and handicap in the early months of life. Vitamin K prophylaxis should be available to all newborn babies.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Neonatology / history
  • Neonatology / trends*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding / epidemiology*
  • Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding / history