General Practice 2022

Kwashiorkor: what é, why it happens and how to treat it

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Kwashiorkor: what é, why it happens and how to treat it
Kwashiorkor: what é, why it happens and how to treat it

Kwashiorkor-type malnutrition is a nutrition disorder that occurs most often in regions where people are hungry, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia and Central America, occurring more frequently during periods of flooding, drought or for political issues, for example.

This syndrome occurs due to malnutrition caused by a lack of protein in the diet, which can cause symptoms such as weight loss, changes in skin and hair color and swelling in the feet and belly.

Pure kwashiorkor is characterized by inadequate protein intake, in the presence of adequate caloric intake, and can be confused with Marasmus, which is a disease caused by a diet low in carbohydrates and fat.However, there is also marasmatic kwashiorkor malnutrition, in which there is a great nutritional poverty of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Find out what marasmus is, what the symptoms are and how to treat it.

Possible causes

This disease is caused by a deficiency of protein in the diet, very important for the body's cells, which contain protein that is needed to repair cells, produce new cells and very useful in metabolic processes. In addition, proteins are also very important in childhood, during growth and pregnancy, so in their absence, growth and body functions are compromised. Here's how to tell if your child is at the right weight.

When Kwashiorkor happens, for example, in the United States, it can be a sign of abuse, neglect or diets that are too high in fat, being therefore more observed in children and the elderly. However, it could also be a sign of another condition, such as HIV.

What are the signs and symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms that can occur in people with this disease are:

  • Changes in skin and hair color;
  • Tiredness;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Loss of muscle mass;
  • Deficiencies in growth or weight gain;
  • Swelling of ankles, feet and belly;
  • Immune system changes;
  • Irritability;
  • Skin rash;
  • Extreme thinness;
  • Shock.

In addition to these symptoms, people with this disease often also have an enlarged liver, which is a disease also known as hepatomegaly. Learn more about enlarged liver.

In addition, these people are often deficient in specific micronutrients, such as vitamins A and D, folic acid, and iron, and in one or more nutrients essential for growth, including protein, electrolytes, and zinc.For all these reasons, they can also suffer from numerous associated complications, being more susceptible to infections, especially sepsis, pneumonia, and gastroenteritis.

What the diagnosis consists of

If Kwashiorkor disease is suspected, the doctor may examine the size of the liver and also note the presence of swelling in the feet, ankles and belly, which is very characteristic of this disease.

In addition, the doctor may also perform blood and urine tests, in order to measure the signs of malnutrition, by evaluating the levels of protein and sugar in the blood.

How the treatment is done

This disease can be easily treated by eating more protein and more calories in a nutritionally balanced way, but treatment should begin as soon as possible.

First foods with more carbohydrates and fats should be eaten and after receiving enough energy from these foods, foods rich in protein should then be introduced.Calories should be increased gradually so that the body adjusts to this nutritional increase. Your doctor may also recommend adding vitamin and mineral supplements to your diet.

Even with this treatment, children who have had Kwashiorkor disease may never reach their potential for growth and weight gain. This happens very often when treatment is given too late and can cause permanent physical and mental impairments in the child.

If not treated in a timely manner, this disease can lead to coma, shock and death.

How to feed

After gradual adaptation, foods with adequate amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates should be consumed.

Protein can be found in foods such as seafood, eggs, meat, beans, nuts and seeds, for example. Discover more foods rich in protein.

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