Malnutrition

Specialty of Gastroenterology

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition is the result of following an unbalanced diet in which there is a lack of nutrients or the intake of nutrients is not proportionate. Malnutrition increases the risk of infection and disease.

What are the symptoms of malnutrition?

The main symptoms of malnutrition are:

  • Major weight loss
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Weak and brittle hair and nails
  • Prolonged diarrhoea
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Low mood and depression
  • Longer healing time for wounds

What causes malnutrition?

Malnutrition can be caused by:

  • Poor diet: either by not consuming enough food or nutrients or the opposite, by overeating.
  • Mental health problems: anorexia or bulimia can lead to malnutrition.
  • Mobility problems: some people may have limited mobility, making it difficult to buy or cook for themselves.
  • Conditions of the digestive system: even if you follow a healthy diet, your body may not absorb the necessary nutrients correctly due to disorders of the digestive system such as IBS or Chrons. Coeliac disease can also damage the lining of the stomach and prevent the proper absorption of nutrients.
  • Alcoholism: can cause gastritis and problems in the pancreas, which hinders the ability to absorb nutrients.
  • Economic problems: in underdeveloped countries, food shortages and high prices prevent adequate nutrition.

Can malnutrition be prevented?

To prevent malnutrition in a child, it is recommended that the mother follow an adequate diet during pregnancy, prioritize breastfeeding and introduce foods according to the paediatrician's instructions. As an adult, it is recommended to follow a diet, balanced in all nutrients, vitamins and minerals. There should be a balanced intake of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals.

How is malnutrition treated?

The treatment depends on the cause and the severity of the malnutrition. In principle, it consists of following a balanced diet, rich in the vitamins and minerals that the person lacks, or if malnutrition is caused by an underlying medical condition, this condition will be addressed and treated first.

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