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Malnutrition (Lack of nutrients) : Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Malnutrition?

Malnutrition refers to getting too little or too much of certain nutrients.

It can lead to serious health issues, including stunted growth, eye problems, diabetes and heart disease.

Malnutrition affects billions of people worldwide. Some populations have a high risk of developing certain types of malnutrition depending on their environment, lifestyle and resources.

Malnutrition is a condition that results from nutrient deficiency or overconsumption.

Types of malnutrition include :

  • Undernutrition: This type of malnutrition results from not getting enough protein, calories or micronutrients. It leads to low weight-for-height (wasting), height-for-age (stunting) and weight-for-age (underweight).
  • Overnutrition: Overconsumption of certain nutrients, such as protein, calories or fat, can also lead to malnutrition. This usually results in overweight or obesity.

People who are undernourished often have deficiencies in vitamins and minerals, especially iron, zinc, vitamin A and iodine (3Trusted Source).

However, micronutrient deficiencies can also occur with overnutrition.

It?s possible to be overweight or obese from excessive calorie consumption but not get enough vitamins and minerals at the same time.

That?s because foods that contribute to overnutrition, such as fried and sugary foods, tend to be high in calories and fat but low in other nutrients

Malnutrition is also known as Lack of nutrients. Malnutrition belongs under the category of Metabolism disorders . Undernutrition and Overnutrition are some common types of Malnutrition. Generally Male, Female, Child are the victim of the Malnutrition. Seriousness of this disease is Medium.

Symptoms of Malnutrition are :

  • Taking a long time to recover
  • getting ill often
  • lack of interest in eating
  • poor concentration
  • mood swings
  • Feeling cold
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue is a constant state of tiredness, even when you?ve gotten your usual amount of sleep. This symptom develops over time and causes a drop in your physical, emotional, and psychological energy levels. You?re also more likely to feel unmotivated to participate in or do activities you normally enjoy.

    Some other signs of fatigue include feeling:

    • physically weaker than usual
    • tired, despite rest
    • as though you have less stamina or endurance than normal
    • mentally tired and moody

    Loss of appetite means you don?t have the same desire to eat as you used to. Signs of decreased appetite include not wanting to eat, unintentional weight loss, and not feeling hungry. The idea of eating food may make you feel nauseous, as if you might vomit after eating. Long-term loss of appetite is also known as anorexia, which can have a medical or psychological cause.

    It may be a warning sign from your body when you feel fatigue and loss of appetite together. Read on to see what conditions may cause these symptoms.

  • Fatigue/weakness
  • Weakness

    Weakness is when strength is decreased and extra effort is needed to move a certain part of the body or the entire body. Weakness is due to loss of muscle strength. Weakness can be a big part of why cancer patients feel fatigue.


    Fatigue is an extreme feeling of tiredness or lack of energy, often described as being exhausted. Fatigue is something that lasts even when a person seems to be getting enough sleep. It can have many causes, including working too much, having disturbed sleep, stress and worry, not having enough physical activity, and going through an illness and its treatment.


    Malnutrition can be caused due to:

    Malnutrition can occur for various reasons. The sections below outline these potential causes in more detail.

    A low intake of food

    Some people develop malnutrition because there is not enough food available or because they have difficulty eating or absorbing nutrients.

    This can happen as a result of:

    • cancer
    • liver disease
    • conditions that cause nausea or make it difficult to eat or swallow
    • taking medications that make eating difficult ? due to nausea, for example

    Mouth problems such as badly fitting dentures may also contribute to malnutrition.

    Mental health conditions

    Undernutrition or malnutrition can affect people with:

    Social and mobility problems

    Factors that can affect a person?s eating habits and potentially lead to malnutrition include:

    • being unable to leave the house or reach a store to buy food
    • finding it physically difficult to prepare meals
    • living alone, which can affect a person?s motivation to cook and eat
    • having limited cooking skills
    • not having enough money to spend on food

    Digestive disorders and stomach conditions

    If the body does not absorb nutrients efficiently, even a healthful diet may not prevent malnutrition.

    Examples of digestive and stomach conditions that may cause this include:

    Alcohol use disorder

    Consuming a lot of alcohol can lead to gastritis or long-term damage to the pancreas. These issues can make it hard to digest food, absorb vitamins, and produce hormones that regulate metabolism.

    Alcohol also contains calories, so a person may not feel hungry after drinking it. They may therefore not eat enough healthful food to supply the body with essential nutrients.

    What kind of precaution should be taken in Malnutrition?

    To prevent malnutrition, people need to consume a range of nutrients from a variety of food types.

    Older adults, young children, people with severe or chronic illness, and others may need additional care to ensure that they obtain the nutrients they need.

    Anyone who starts to show signs of malnutrition or undernutrition should see a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment.

    In the U.S., effective treatment is usually available, although the outlook and time needed for recovery will depend on the cause of the malnutrition.

    Treatment for the Malnutrition


    Several factors are taken into account to check whether someone is malnourished or at a high risk of malnutrition.

    In adults, these include:

    • body mass index (BMI) ? a measure that can be used to determine if you're a healthy weight for your height
    • whether you've unintentionally lost weight in recent months
    • whether an illness means you're unable to feed yourself or absorb nutrients from your diet

    You would normally be considered malnourished if you have a BMI of less than 18.5 or you've unintentionally lost more than 5% of your body weight during the last three to six months. However, in some cases, doctors may be concerned about malnutrition if you have a BMI between 18.5 and 20.

    You may be considered at a high risk of malnutrition if:

    • an illness means you have eaten nothing for the last five days, or you're likely to eat nothing for the next five days
    • you don't absorb nutrients from food well ? for example, you have a condition, such as Crohn?s disease, that causes the digestive system to become inflamed
    • there's an underlying reason why your body is likely to use up nutrients at a higher rate or have an increased need for nutrients
    • you have difficulty eating and drinking

    A vitamin or mineral deficiency can usually be diagnosed with a blood test.


    If a doctor diagnoses malnutrition, they will make a treatment plan for the person. The person may also need to meet with a nutritionist and other healthcare providers.

    Treatment will depend on the severity of the malnutrition and the presence of any other underlying conditions or complications.

    It may include:

    • ongoing screening and monitoring
    • making a dietary plan, which might include taking supplements
    • treating specific symptoms, such as nausea
    • treating any infections that may be present
    • checking for any mouth or swallowing problems
    • suggesting alternative eating utensils

    In severe cases, a person may need to:

    • spend time in the hospital
    • gradually start taking in nutrients over a number of days
    • receive nutrients such as potassium and calcium intravenously

    The person?s healthcare team will continue to monitor them to ensure that they are getting the nutrition they need.

    Possible complication with Malnutrition

    • Insufficient energy intake
    • Weight loss
    • Loss of muscle mass
    • Loss of subcutaneous fat
    • Localized or generalized fluid accumulation that may mask weight loss
    • Diminished functional status as measured by handgrip strength


    1 https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/malnutrition#bottom-line 2 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/179316#treatment 3 https://www.parashospitals.com/blogs/what-are-the-diseases-caused-by-malnutrition/ 4 https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/malnutrition 5 https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/nutritional/malnutrition#diagnosing-malnutrition 6 https://www.nutriciaresearch.com/nutrition-for-life/disease-related-malnutrition-prevalence-and-consequences/ 7 https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/malnutrition/causes/ 8 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4951875/ 9 https://reference.medscape.com/features/slideshow/malnutrition