Malnutrition: what is it, symptoms and how is the treatment performed
Malnutrition is inadequate intake or absorption of nutrients required to satisfy energy needs for normal body function or organism growth, in the case of children. This condition is more serious in older people, children and embarassed women, which if it is very severe, when the body mass index is below 18 kg/m2, it can cause death.
Generally, malnutrition occurs in people with economic difficulties or inhabitants of less developed countries, such as certain African countries, where cases of child malnutrition are especially common.
Malnutrition can lead to the emergence of different diseases, such as anemia, due to lack of blood; hypothyroidism, due to iodine deficiency, or xerophthalmia, due to the reduction of vitamin A, for example. For this reason, people must have a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle to avoid malnutrition.
The main symptom of malnutrition is the loss of body weight; however, you can have other symptoms such as the following:
- frequent diarrhea;
- Excessive tiredness;
- Concentration difficulty;
- lack of appetite;
- Decreased body temperature;
- Apathy or irritability;
- Hinchazón in a generalized way.
In the most serious cases of malnutrition, weakening of the immune system can occur and, therefore, frequent emergence of infections.
The body mass index (BMI) can help in the diagnosis of malnutrition. Know your BMI, your ideal weight and some advice that can improve your quality of life, putting the data in the calculator below:
It is important to mention that this calculator is for adults and not for children. Find out the BMI for children in our online calculator.
The main risk group for malnutrition is the babies, especially when they are not breastfed properly or when the baby does not consume the milk correctly for their age, and the children until the 5 years of age, phase in which they are totally dependent of adult care to be able to feed.
Asimism, older people and those with anorexia or other serious illnesses, such as cancer and heart failure, for example, are also more likely to suffer from malnutrition, as they are usually unable to consume the necessary amount of food per day.
The main causes of malnutrition are the following:
- Lack of access to food;
- Problems in metabolism or in the absorption of nutrients, such as diarrhea, anorexia or diabetes;
- Use of drugs that reduce the absorption of nutrients, such as chemotherapy;
- Situations that increase the need for nutrients, such as high fever or burns.
Another frequent cause of malnutrition is the implementation of diets poor in certain nutrients, as in the case of some vegetarians or fad diets.
How is the treatment performed?
The treatment for malnutrition is carried out by gradually increasing the amount of calories ingested, which prevents intestinal changes such as diarrhea. In this way, between 6 and 12 meals are held a day with a small amount of food in each one.
As the treatment progresses, the number of meals decreases, while the amount of food in each one increases, according to the patient’s adaptation. However, when the individual cannot ingest solid foods, diets or liquid supplements can be used to guarantee the necessary nutrients. In more serious cases, hospitalization may be required so that the patient is fed with nutrients intravenously or through a gastric tube.
Consequences of malnutrition
In this way, its main consequences are the following:
- Severe weight loss;
- Poor growth;
- Low immunity, which favors the emergence of diseases;
- Difficulty in wound healing;
- Skin, hair and fragile nails;
- More visible wrinkles;
- Intestinal malfunction;
- Delay in intellectual development among children;
In addition, in the most serious cases, malnutrition can cause death.
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