What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to a condition in which a person does not consume the right amount of nutrients. Malnutrition is the umbrella term for both undernutrition (subnutrition) and overnutrition. In particular:

  • Undernutrition (subnutrition): people do not get enough nutrients
  • Overnutrition: poeple get more nutrients than needed

This article focus more on the undernutrition, rather than overnutrition.

What causes malnutrition?

Malnutrition is caused by a lack of nutrients in one’s diet due to:

  • An inadequate diet
  • A problem absorbing nutrients from food

Symptoms of malnutrition

Symptoms of undernutrition:

  • Unintentional weight loss, loss of fat, reduced muscle mass and tissue mass
  • Tiredness, fatigue, apathy, irritability
  • Muscles weakness
  • Low mood, depression
  • Breathing difficulties, a higher risk of respiratory failure
  • Higher risk of getting illnesses or infections
  • Higher risk of complications after surgery
  • Higher risk of hypothermia – abnormally low body temperature
  • Longer healing times for wounds
  • Longer recover times from infections, illnesses
  • Lower sex drive and problems with fertility

More severe symptoms include:

  • Thin, dry, inelastic, pale, and cold skin
  • Hollow cheeks and sunken eyes
  • Dry and sparse hair that falls out easily
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Heart, liver and respiratory failure (if calorie deficiency happen for a long period of time)
  • Death (possibly if the total starvation last for 8 to 12 weeks)

Signs of overnutrition

Being overweight or obese. However, in the case of undernutrition, people can also appear overweight if they follow a diet high in energy, but low in other nutrients.

Signs of malnutrition in children

  • Delayed delayed growth
  • Changes in behaviour (the child gets unusually irritable, sluggish or anxious)

When medical help is needed?

People would need help from doctors if their BMI ( body mass index ) is lower than 18.5 or they show any of the signs above.

People can get their BMI by deviding their body mass by the square of the body height. The mass in kilograms and height in metres.

How is malnutrition treated?

Treatments for malnutrition vary depending on the causes of the condition and how severe it is. Treatment can be carry out either at home or at the medical center.

The primary treatment are changes in the diet plan. People with undernutrition need an increase in their food’s nutritional content. They may or may not need to take nutritional supplements.

If they can not manage to meet the nutritional requirement through eating, they may need:

  • A feeding tube: to provide nutrients directly into the digestive system
  • A drip: to provide nutrients and fluids directly into a vein

How to prevent malnutrition

The best stategy to prevent malnutrition is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This type of diet must cover various foods from the four main food groups including:

  • Lots of fruit and vegetables
  • Plenty of food rich in carbohydrate
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non dairy sources of protein

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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