Malnutrition: What it is, symptoms, consequences and treatment


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Malnutrition is the inadequate intake or absorption of nutrients necessary to meet the energy needs for the normal functioning of the body or growth of the body, as in the case of children. The condition is more serious in the elderly, children and in pregnant women and it can lead to death, if severe, when the body mass index is less than 18kg/m2.

Malnutrition usually occurs in people who experience economic difficulties or inhabitants of poorly developed countries such as Africa, and it usually causes child malnutrition.

It can lead to the emergence of other diseases such as anemia, hypothyroidism, iodo deficiency or xerophthalmia as well as the reduction of vitamin A. People should therefore eat a balanced diet and live a healthy lifestyle to avoid malnutrition.

Main symptoms

The main symptom of malnutrition is body weight loss, but other symptoms are:

  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Decreased body temperature
  • Apathy or irritability
  • Generalized swellings

In the most severe cases, malnutrition may weaken the immune system, thereby resulting in frequent infections.

Possible causes

The most common cause of malnutrition is lack of access to food, problems in metabolism or absorption of nutrients such as diarrhea, anorrexia, diabetes, use of remedies that decrease the absorption of nutrients; such as chemotherapy and situations that increase the need for nutrients such as high fever or burns.

Another frequent cause of malnutrition is poor diet especially in specific nutrients, like in some vegetarians or when consuming trendy diets.

Who has the highest risk?

The group with the highest risk of malnutrition are babies, especially when the mother does not breastfeed properly or when the baby does not consume milk properly and this depends largely on their age, especially for children up to years, a phase that entirely depends on the care of adults to feed the baby.

In addition, elderly people with anorexia or other serious diseases such as cancer and heart failure are also likely to be malnourished because they do not consume the required amount of food per day.

How treatment is done

Treatment of malnutrition is done with the gradual increase in the amount of calories ingested, while avoiding intestinal side effects such as diarrhea. Thus, between 6 and 12 meals are made a day with little amount of food.

As treatment progresses, the number of meals is decreased, while the amounts of food at each meal are increased, depending on the patient’s adaptation. However, when the individual is unable to eat solid foods, diets or liquid, supplements can be used to ensure the necessary nutrients are consumed. In the most severe cases, hospital admission may be required for the patient to be fed nutrients directly into the vein or through a gastric tube.

Consequences of malnutrition

The main consequence of malnutrition is the reduction in physical growth and lower intellectual performance in children. This is because extreme thinness ends up reducing the height that the child could have reached in adulthood, and it also hinders their learning, memory and reasoning.

In addition, other main consequences are:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Low immunity, favoring the onset of diseases
  • Anemia
  • Difficulty in wound healing
  • Fragile skin, hair and nails
  • More visible wrinkles
  • Intestinal malfunction
  • Delay in intellectual development in children
  • Infertility

Moreover, in the most severe cases, malnutrition can be life-threatening if not treated properly.


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Cornelius A.

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