Malnutrition: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Malnutrition: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Malnutrition is a condition that results from eating a diet not having sufficient nutrients or are too much such that the diet causes health problems. Not having enough nutrients is called undernutrition or undernourishment while too much is called over nutrition. Malnutrition is however used to specifically refer to undernutrition where an individual is not getting enough calories, protein, or micronutrients.

Protein-energy malnutrition and dietary deficiencies are the two main types of undernourishment. Protein-energy malnutrition has two severe forms including marasmus (a lack of protein and calories) and kwashiorkor (a lack of just protein). Common micronutrient deficiencies includes a lack of iron, iodine, and vitamin A.

Giving food to people who need it most, both by delivering food and providing money so people can buy food within local markets are effective.

In 2017, there were 815 million malnourished (undernourished) people in the world. Approximately a third of deaths in children are believed to be due to undernutrition, although the deaths are rarely labelled as such. In 2010, malnutrition was estimated to have contributed to about 1.5 million deaths in women and children. An additional 165 million children were estimated to have stunted growth in 2013. Undernutrition is more common in developing countries and certain groups have higher rates of undernutrition, including women particularly while pregnant or breastfeeding. In the elderly, malnutrtion becomes more common due to physical, psychological, and social factors.

How does Malnutrition affect your body?

Adverse effects of malnutrition include reduced muscle and tissue mass, decreased mobility and stamina, breathing difficulties which can increase the risk of respiratory failure and chest infection. Malnutrition slower the immune response which increases the risk of infection and it will take more time to heal the wound or illness. It also decreases the body temperature which puts a risk of hypothermia. It may make people feel tiredness and can also cause depression.

What are the causes of Malnutrition?

  • Food insecurity-Lack of access to sufficient and affordable food in both developing and developed nations to malnutrition.
  • Digestive problems and issues with nutrient absorption– Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and bacterial overgrowth in the intestines may cause malnutrition.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption– Heavy alcohol drinking can lead to inadequate intake of protein, calories and micronutrients.
  • Mental health disorders– Depression and other mental health conditions can increase the risk of malnutrition.
  • Inability to obtain and prepare foods-Being frail, having poor mobility and lack of muscle strength increases the chance of malnutrition.
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What are the risk factors of Malnutrition?

  • People living in developing countries or areas with limited access to food is one of the risk factor of undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.
  • Individuals with increased nutrient needs, especially children and pregnant or breastfeeding women are malnourished.
  • People that live in poverty or have low incomes are associated with malnutrition.
  • Elderly people, particularly those who live alone or have disabilities are at risk of malnutrition.
  • People with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are at risk of being undernourished, may be up to four times.
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What are the symptoms of Malnutrition?

If undernutrition occurs during pregnancy, or before two years of age, it may result in permanent problems with physical and mental development in the child.

Extreme undernourishment or starvation, may cause a short height, thin body, very poor energy levels, and swollen legs and abdomen.

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How is Malnutrition diagnosed?

Several factors are taken into account to diagnose malnourishment:

In adults body mass index (BMI) is measured to determine if you have a healthy weight according to your height or to know the cause of unintentional lost weight. Other nutrition deficiencies are also taken into account.

Diagnosing malnutrition in children involves measuring weight and height and comparing it against the expected average height and weight for a child of that age. A notable drop below the expected level could indicate a risk of malnutrition.

Blood tests can help to measure protein levels in the blood. If there is low levels of protein in blood then a child is indicated to be malnourished.

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How to prevent & control Malnutrition?

  • Encourage healthier food choices. Add fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats to your diet and limit the intake of solid fats, sugars, alcoholic beverages, and salt.
  • Snacking may be especially helpful for older adults who quickly get full at mealtimes. Healthy food snack is a good way to get extra nutrients and calories between meals.
  • Consider adding supplements like shake or other nutritional supplements.
  • Encourage exercise as this can help improve one’s appetite and keep bones and muscles strong.
  • Giving food to poor children at least once a week can help them.

Treatment of Malnutrition- Allopathic Treatment

Treatment for malnutrition depends on the underlying cause and how malnourished the person is and this may include dietary changes and addition of supplements.

In some people, lost body fluid is replaced by drinking more fluids or administering fluids by intravenous therapy (IV).

Children with long term diseases need therapy. This includes additional nutrients, vitamins and mineral supplements. The underlying disease also needs to be treated simultaneously to prevent malnutrition.

Treatment of Malnutrition- Homeopathic Treatment

AbrotanumThis is indicated for impaired nutrition, defective digestion and assimilation.

Calc-carb- This is for patients with morbid appetite, craving indigestible articles.

Magnesia carbonicaThis is indicated when improperly nourished and have ulcers in the mouth, swollen glands, bloated abdomen.

Natrum mur- This is given when the patient has thin neck, ravenous appetite and grows thin.

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Malnutrition- Lifestyle Tips

  • Women should breastfeed the infant for at least 6 months.
  • Have a high-Protein diet including meat, fish, chicken, dairy, soy and other protein sources.

What are recommended exercise for person with Malnutrition?

Walking, running, jogging, swimming, cycling and all other exercises are recommended as they will increases the appetite of the person which will make him/her hungry, willing them to eat.

Malnutrition & pregnancy- Things to know

  • Malnutrition during pregnancy can lead to the risk of maternal mortality, miscarriage, osteomalacia, anaemia in the mother.
  • It also affects the baby and can cause still birth, low-birth weight, low IQ, cognitive impairment.
  • Lack of breastfeeding may cause, as may a number of infectious diseases such as gastroenteritis, pneumonia, malaria, and measles, which increase nutrient requirements.
  • Breastfeeding can reduce rates of undernourishment and death in children.
  • Giving supplementation of a number of micronutrients to women during pregnancy can help reduce the chances of malnutrition.
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Common complications related to Malnutrition

  • Insufficient energy intake.
  • Weight loss.
  • Loss of muscle mass.
  • Loss of subcutaneous fat.
  • Localized fluid accumulation that may mask weight loss.

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