Symptoms of Malnutrition

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel

When talking about malnutrition in children, most people would think about undernutrition, which happens when a child does not consume enough calories and protein to grow up properly. In fact, malnutrition refers to both undernutrition and overnutrition, which happens when a child consumes more calories than necessary. This article focuses on undernutrition.

What causes malnutrition?

A poor diet is probably the biggest culprit. When your child does not have enough food or the food she eats cannot provide her with enough nutrients, she will suffer from malnutrition. Besides, there are certain illnesses that can cause swallowing difficulties, which may result in insufficient nutrition intake. Another common cause is mental health issues. A child with depression often develops bad eating habits that may lead to malnutrition. In developing nations, malnutrition can also be the result of food shortage or high food prices.

What are the signs of malnutrition?

Possible symptoms of malnutrition include:

  • Loss of fat
  • Respiratory problems (breathing difficulties)
  • Depression
  • Elevated risks of surgical complications
  • Elevated risks of hypothermia
  • Weakened immune system due to the loss of white blood cells
  • Repeated feelings of coldness
  • Longer healing time for injuries
  • Longer recovery from diseases and infections
  • Infertility in later life
  • Muscle loss
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Children with severe malnutrition may exhibit signs such as:
  • Thin, dry, inelastic skin
  • Hollow cheeks and sunken eyes
  • Dry hair or hair fall
  • Heart, liver and respiratory failure

Total starvation (no calorie consumption at all) can result in fatality within 8 to 12 weeks

Severe malnutrition in children can result in slow behavioral development, even mental retardation. Even when treated, undernutrition still leaves long-term effects in children. Mental function and digestive system impairments may persist for the rest of the child’s life.

How to treat malnutrition?

Treatment for malnutrition depends on the severity. The more severe the child’s condition is, the longer it will take to fix the problem. In case there is a present of another underlying medical condition, that condition needs to be addressed. The care and the treatment should take into consideration the needs and preferences of the child. The treatment plan often involves a specially customized diet and some nutritional supplements. The goal is to make sure the child receive a healthy, nutritious diet. The child will be monitored closely to ensure he or she has got the proper amount of calories and nutritional needs.

When it comes to malnutrition, prevention is better than cure. To prevent malnutrition, you have to give your children a balanced diet with sufficient nutrients from major food groups.

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

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Review Date: November 23, 2016 | Last Modified: December 9, 2019

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