Malnutrition is a medical condition resulting from a lack of nutritional intake or the body’s inability to properly utilize nutrients once ingested. The lack of vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins and carbohydrates results in the body diverting what little sustenance it has to essential organs such as the lungs and heart. Other bodily organs and systems begin to fail.
A physical manifestation of malnutrition is severe weight loss. In the case of a medical condition, such as Crohn’s disease or Celiac disease, the person may be eating adequate amounts of food, but because the body disposes of the bulk of nutrients through waste, the person continues to lose weight.
With weight loss due to malnutrition, the body isn’t losing just fat. Both tissue and muscle mass are lost, resulting not only in the sufferer being very thin, but also having the appearance of being “bony”. His elbow and knee joints are prominent as is his rib cage and clavicle.
Before the more evident symptom of rapid weight loss, however, there may be more subtle signs of malnutrition. Frequent dizzy spells or lightheadedness, chronic fatigue, dry skin, hair loss and a decrease in cognitive functioning or brain fog are indications of possible malnourishment that could result in malnutrition.
A lack of food due to poverty or other environmental circumstances is of course a direct link to malnutrition. For those with underlying medical conditions, though, the link may not be apparent. The deficiency of a single nutrient, such as vitamin K, may cause mild symptoms of malnutrition and the condition goes unnoticed by both the sufferer and physician.
For example, a 67 year old retiree on a limited budget may not have a balanced diet, resulting in a minor vitamin deficiency. This person’s hair may start to thin, his skin dry out and he may at times appear confused. All these symptoms may be attributed to age, but were the person to eat a balanced diet, those symptoms may abate.
Other symptoms that occur due to a deficiency in one or more nutrients include difficulty in fighting off infections and a slower recovery time from illness, as well as a susceptibility to bruising and a slowed healing time for minor cuts and wounds. The deficiency in nutrients results in damage to the immune system, putting the sufferer at risk for more serious infections as well as a higher risk for complications due to surgery.
Malnutrition due to underlying medical conditions is often resolved when the medical condition is treated. Once the body is sufficiently nourished, and continues to be nourished, the symptoms subside and if resolved in the early stages, there is no permanent damage.
The World Health Organization, though, says that malnutrition is a leading cause of death in children on a global scale. The malnutrition is due to a lack of food. The children exhibit all the symptoms of malnutrition until they succumb to starvation.