Malnutrition

Alternative names
Nutrition - inadequate

Definition
Malnutrition means a person’s body is not getting enough nutrients. The condition may result from an inadequate or unbalanced diet, digestive difficulties, absorption problems, or other medical conditions.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Malnutrition can occur because of the lack of a single vitamin in the diet, or it can be because the person isn’t getting enough food. Starvation is a form of malnutrition. Malnutrition can also occur when nutrients ARE adequately consumed in the diet, but one or more nutrients are not digested or absorbed properly.

Malnutrition may be mild enough to show no symptoms or so severe that the damage it has done is irreversible even though the individual may be kept alive.

Worldwide, malnutrition continues to be a significant problem, especially among children who cannot fend adequately for themselves. Poverty, natural disasters, political problems and war in countries such as Biafra, Somalia, Rwanda, Iraq, and many others have demonstrated that hunger and malnutrition are not strangers to this world.

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Symptoms
Symptoms vary with the specific malnutrition-related disorder. However, some general symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, Weight loss and decreased immune response.

Signs and tests
Testing depends on the specific disorder. Most work-ups include nutritional assessments and blood work.

Treatment
Treatment usually consists of replacing missing nutrients, treating symptoms as needed, and treating any underlying medical condition.

Expectations (prognosis)

The outlook depends on the cause of the malnutrition. Most nutritional deficiencies can be corrected. However, if malnutrition is caused by a medical condition, that illness has to be treated in order to reverse the nutritional deficiency.

Complications
If untreated, malnutrition can lead to mental or physical disability, illness, and possibly death.

Calling your health care provider
Discuss your risk of malnutrition with your health care provider. You must seek treatment if you experience any change in your body’s ability to function. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, fainting, lack of menstruation, lack of growth in children, and rapid Hair loss.

Prevention
Eating a good, well-balanced diet helps to prevent most forms of malnutrition.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.

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