Malnutrition – Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Malnutrition can be defined as deprivation of essential nutrients in the daily diet. This is a serious medical issue and it can affect both the physical health and mental stability. People having certain disorders like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can develop malnutrition because the food will not get absorbed in the blood properly, in spite of eating healthy foods.

Malnutrition Causes :

  • Various factors including deprivation of essential nutrients in diet can lead to malnutrition. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (people with abnormally low weight, with intense fear of weight and obsessed with the perception of weight) and anorexia bulimia are prone to malnutrition. Both are similar disorders wherein affected person may refuse to eat properly in the fear of gaining weight. They do plenty of exercise and are always concerned with their body looks and weight.
  • Another psychological problem that leads to malnutrition is depression and anxiety. People taking antidepressant drugs can have no appetite and may not eat properly. Depression can also be caused due to imbalance of chemicals in the brain.
  • Dementia is an age related problem in which people tend to forget everything including eating and drinking. Elderly people affected with dementia may not be in a position to acknowledge that eating regularly is essential to maintain health. This can gradually cause malnutrition.
  • People who are extremely fasting and dieting are likely to develop malnutrition.
  • Any medical problems in the throat and mouth would prevent a person from eating well. Adding new dental fixtures, lack of realizing the smell of food, dryness of mouth and difficulty in swallowing due to throat problems can gradually lead to lack of nutrients in the body.
  • Alcoholism (overuse of alcohol) can deprive a man from appetite. Drinking daily in large quantity can affect the digestive system significantly making it impossible for the system to absorb nutrients. Liver gets affected due to continued use of alcohol causing several problems including malnutrition.
  • Other medical disorders like ulcerative colitis, chronic vomiting, gut problems and rapid movement of food without absorption can cause weight loss.
  • People with blood cancer may not have enough appetite in advanced stages due to chemotherapy. This can cause significant weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Elderly people living in care homes and those who are restricted to bed without movement can get malnutrition.
  • Lastly, people who cannot afford for good food due to limited income are at risk of malnutrition.

Malnutrition Symptoms :

Malnutrition does not develop overnight. It is a process affecting the system gradually. Some of the common symptoms of malnutrition include loss of weight, extreme tiredness, and inability to perform routine tasks, loss of appetite, mood swings, depression and poor concentration. Wounds would not heal in time for the affected person. People with malnutrition are likely to feel cold easily. They are susceptible for infection also since the immune system has become weak due to malnutrition.


Malnutrition Diagnosis :

Your doctor will collect complete medical history before making any diagnosis. He would check for any weight loss (unintentional) in the past 3 months. He may order for series of tests including blood profile for ruling out any medical disorders. He will try to examine whether the patient is suffering from any acute illness. BMI is calculated for the patient and if the reading is in the range of 17-18 it indicates malnutrition in mild form, and 16-17 reading is moderate type of malnutrition and if it is below 16 it is considered to be severe.

Malnutrition Treatment :

  • For people diagnosed with mild and moderate malnutrition, treatment can be taken at home. A healthy diet plan is prepared and the patient has to follow it strictly. For cases of severe malnutrition, the patient is hospitalized and put on intravenous fluids to balance the metabolism.
  • Depending on the condition, several ways of treatment is given. The patient would be put on feeding tube so that essential nutrients are directly passed on to the gut.
  • People who have malnutrition due to medical disorders, the root cause of the problem is identified and treated. Feeding tube is suggested for patients with throat problem and difficulty in swallowing.
  • Complete nutrition chart is prepared as customized plan based on the weight and age of the individual. Supplements are prescribed for the patient to improve his weight.
  • The patient has to be guided by care-taker or a therapist until the symptoms improve. Social service centers are useful for people who are not in a position to prepare their meals.
  • Importance of healthy diet is explained and tips for preparing balanced diet are suggested in these centers.

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