Alternative names: Inadequate nutrition, Malnourishment, Malnutrition
Malnutrition is a state in which the body is not getting enough of the required nutrients. Starvation is a severe form of malnutrition.
The cause of malnutrition can be quite obvious – an inadequate, poor, unbalanced diet – or, not so obvious. Other causes include digestive problems, nutrient absorption problems, or certain disease conditions.
If malnutrition is suspected, analysis of a blood sample can identify various protein, vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Specific deficiencies create specific signs, symptoms and disease conditions.
Micronutrient malnutrition is due to a lack of vitamins or minerals. One of the most common forms is anemia, due to iron deficiency. Severe anemia can cause extreme lethargy, headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. An anemic person may also display symptoms of pica (craving substances that are not food, such as soil.)
Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C. Symptoms include fatigue, skin spots, and bleeding from the mucous membranes. It used to occur mainly among sailors and in areas of famine, but can occur nowadays when people eat too many processed foods that lack nutrients.
Rickets usually occurs due to vitamin D deficiency but may also be caused by insufficient calcium intake. It usually affects children and causes softening of the bones, which leads to fractures and deformities such as bowed legs.
Kwashiorkor usually affects children under 5 years old living in famine-stricken regions. It is a disorder that occurs when the body has an adequate calorie intake but doesn't receive enough protein and required nutrients. Symptoms include edema, anemia, stunted growth, diarrhea, and skin spots.
Marasmus usually affects the elderly and involves protein and calorie deficiency. Symptoms include diarrhea, severe loss of fat and muscle, slowed metabolism, slowed pulse, and low blood pressure.
Low protein intake can manifest as edema of the hands and feet, swollen abdomen, irritability, anorexia, a peeling rash, hair discoloration, and a large fatty liver. The abdominal swelling is due to (1) ascites caused by hypoalbuminemia and (2) an enlarged fatty liver.
Specific food cravings can be manifestations the body's attempt to obtain certain nutrients that it is missing. If a person attempts to satisfy their cravings with junk foods (foods with no nutritional value), the cravings will continue.
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