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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Malnutrition

Nutrition - inadequate

Last reviewed: April 13, 2013.

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

Causes

There are a number of causes of malnutrition. It may result from:

  • Inadequate or unbalanced diet
  • Problems with digestion or absorption
  • Certain medical conditions

Malnutrition can occur if you do not eat enough food. Starvation is a form of malnutrition.

You may develop malnutrition if you lack of a single vitamin in the diet.

In some cases, malnutrition is very mild and causes no symptoms. However, sometimes it can be so severe that the damage done to the body is permanent, even though you survive.

Malnutrition continues to be a significant problem all over the world, especially among children. Poverty, natural disasters, political problems, and war all contribute to conditions -- even epidemics -- of malnutrition and starvation, and not just in developing countries.

Related topics:

Symptoms

Symptoms vary and depend on what is causing the malnutrition. However, some general symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, and weight loss.

Exams and Tests

Testing depends on the specific disorder. Most work-ups include nutritional assessments and blood work.

Treatment

Treatment usually consists of replacing missing nutrients, treating symptoms as needed, and treating any underlying medical condition.

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

Discuss the risk of malnutrition with your health care provider. Treatment is necessary if you or your child have any changes in the body's ability to function. Contact your health care provider if the following symptoms develop:

  • Fainting
  • Lack of menstruation
  • Lack of growth in children
  • Rapid hair loss

Prevention

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

References

  1. Klein S. Protein-energy malnutrition. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman’s Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 222.
  2. Alderman H, Shekar M. Nutrition, food security, and health. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. GemeIII JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 43.

Review Date: 4/13/2013.

Reviewed by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Protein and energy supplementation in elderly people at risk from malnutritionProtein and energy supplementation in elderly people at risk from malnutrition
    Much emphasis is placed on the importance of good diet, usually in relation to concern about the health risks of obesity. However it has been generally agreed that the risk of undernutrition rather than overnutrition is the main cause for concern in elderly people, particularly those who are hospitalised or institutionalised. Malnutrition has been shown to have important effects on recovery in a broad range of patients and conditions. It has been associated strongly with impaired immune response, impaired muscle and respiratory function, delayed wound healing, overall increased complications, longer rehabilitation, greater length of hospital stay and increased mortality. Oral protein and energy supplements are potentially safer and easier to administer than nasogastric enteral feeds and are therefore particularly suited to elderly people and are also widely used. However, there may be problems with the willingness and ability of older people to consume oral supplements, and supplements may not be used effectively. Even if supplements are prescribed, they may not always be given, or are given but not consumed. In addition to taste, the composition and timing of administration in relation to meals may be important. Efforts also need to be made to provide normal meals and snacks which meet the needs of elderly people and to provide assistance with feeding if required.
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