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Malnutrition

Nutrition - inadequate

Malnutrition is the condition that occurs when your body does not get enough nutrients.

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Causes

There are many types of malnutrition, and they have different causes. Some causes include:

You may develop malnutrition if you lack a single vitamin in your diet. Lacking a vitamin or other nutrient is called a deficiency.

Sometimes malnutrition is very mild and causes no symptoms. Other times it can be so severe that the damage it does to the body is permanent, even though you survive.

Poverty, natural disasters, political problems, and war can all contribute to malnutrition and starvation, and not just in developing countries.

Some health conditions that are related to malnutrition are:

Malnutrition is a significant problem all over the world, especially among children. It is very harmful to children because it affects brain development and other growth. Children who suffer from malnutrition may have lifelong problems.

Symptoms

Symptoms of malnutrition vary and depend on its cause. General symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, and weight loss.

Exams and Tests

Testing depends on the specific disorder. Most health care providers will do a nutritional assessment and blood work.

Treatment

Treatment most often consists of:

Outlook (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.

Possible Complications

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

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Talk to your provider about the risk of malnutrition. Treatment is necessary if you or your child have any changes in the body's ability to function. Contact your provider if these symptoms develop:

Prevention

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

Related Information

Malabsorption
Appetite - increased
Beriberi
Binge eating disorder
Vitamin A
Thiamin
Riboflavin
Vitamin B6
Folic acid in diet
Vitamin E
Vitamin K
Bulimia
Food guide plate
Kwashiorkor
Pellagra
Rickets
Scurvy

References

Ashworth A. Nutrition, food security, and health. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier;2020:chap 57.

Becker PJ, Nieman Carney L, Corkins MR, et al. Consensus statement of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition: indicators recommended for the identification and documentation of pediatric malnutrition (undernutrition). J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(12):1988-2000. PMID: 2548748 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25458748.

Manary MJ, Trehan I. Protein-energy malnutrition. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 215.

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Review Date: 5/13/2019  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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