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Health Encyclopedia

Health Encyclopedia

An invaluable resource of health information.

Malnutrition

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

  • Alternative Names

    Nutrition - inadequate

  • Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    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.

  • Signs 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.

  • Expectations (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.

  • Complications

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

  • Calling your health care provider

    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

    Baucher H. Failure to thrive. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 37.

    Heird WC. Food insecurity, hunger, and undernutrition. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 43.

    Klein S. Protein-energy malnutrition. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 234.

Review Date: 5/12/2009

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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 endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2014 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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