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General Practice 2023

Desnutritionção: what é, symptoms, consequences, and treatment

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Desnutritionção: what é, symptoms, consequences, and treatment
Desnutritionção: what é, symptoms, consequences, and treatment

Malnutrition is the inadequate intake or absorption of nutrients necessary to meet the energy requirements for the normal functioning of the body or for the growth of the organism, in the case of children. It is a more serious condition in the elderly, children or pregnant women that can even lead to death, if very severe, when the body mass index is below 18 kg/m2.

Usually, malnutrition occurs in people with economic difficulties or inhabitants of less developed countries, such as Africa, causing, especially, child malnutrition.

Malnutrition can lead to the emergence of diseases, such as anemia, lack of iron, hypothyroidism, iodine deficiency or xerophthalmia, in the reduction of vitamin A, for example.Therefore, people must have a balanced diet and a he althy lifestyle to avoid malnutrition. See how to eat he althy.

Main symptoms

The main symptom of malnutrition is weight loss, but other symptoms are:

  • Frequent diarrhea;
  • Excessive fatigue;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Lack of appetite;
  • Body temperature decrease;
  • Apathy or irritability;
  • Generalized swelling.

In the most severe cases of malnutrition, the immune system may weaken, resulting in frequent infections.

Possible causes

The most common causes of malnutrition are lack of access to food; problems with nutrient metabolism or absorption, such as diarrhea, anorexia, or diabetes; use of drugs that reduce the absorption of nutrients, such as chemotherapy and situations that increase the need for nutrients, such as high fever or burns, for example.

Another frequent cause of malnutrition is diets low in certain nutrients, as in the case of some vegetarians or fad diets.

Who is most at risk

The group at greatest risk of malnutrition are babies, especially when the mother does not breastfeed properly or when the baby does not consume milk properly for their age, and children up to 5 years old, in which it depends entirely on the care of adults to feed itself.

Furthermore, the elderly and people with anorexia or other serious illnesses such as cancer and heart failure are also more likely to become malnourished, as they usually cannot consume the necessary amount of food per day.

How the treatment is done

The treatment for malnutrition is done with a gradual increase in the amount of calories ingested, avoiding intestinal changes, such as diarrhea. Thus, between 6 and 12 meals are made a day with little amount of food.

As the treatment progresses, the number of meals is reduced, while the amounts of food at each meal are increased, according to the patient's adaptation. However, when the individual cannot ingest solid foods, diets or liquid supplements can be used to ensure the necessary nutrients. In the most severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary for the patient to be fed nutrients directly into the vein or through a gastric tube.

Consequences of malnutrition

The main consequence of malnutrition is reduced physical growth and lower intellectual performance in children. This happens because extreme thinness ends up reducing the height that the child could reach in adulthood, and hinders their learning, memory and reasoning.

Also, other main consequences are:

  • Severe weight loss;
  • Low immunity, favoring the onset of diseases;
  • Anemia;
  • Difficulty healing wounds;
  • Fragile skin, hair and nails;
  • Wrinkles more visible;
  • Intestinal malfunction;
  • Delay in intellectual development in children;
  • Infertility.

Furthermore, in the most severe cases, where it is not treated properly, malnutrition can be life-threatening.

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