Malnutrition is a significant problem all over the world, especially among children. It is very harmful to children because it affects brain development and other growth. Children who suffer from malnutrition may have lifelong problems.
Symptoms of malnutrition vary and depend on its cause. General symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, and weight loss.
Exams and Tests
Testing depends on the specific disorder. Most health care providers will do a nutritional assessment and blood work.
Treatment most often consists of:
Replacing missing nutrients
Treating symptoms as needed
Treating any underlying medical condition
The outlook depends on the cause of the malnutrition. Most nutritional deficiencies can be corrected. However, if malnutrition is caused by a medical condition, that illness has to be treated in order to reverse the nutritional deficiency.
If untreated, malnutrition can lead to mental or physical disability, illness, and possibly death.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Talk to your provider about the risk of malnutrition. Treatment is necessary if you or your child have any changes in the body's ability to function. Contact your provider if these symptoms develop:
Lack of menstruation
Lack of growth in children
Rapid hair loss
Eating a well-balanced diet helps to prevent most forms of malnutrition.
Ashworth A. Nutrition, food security, and health. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier;2020:chap 57.
Becker PJ, Nieman Carney L, Corkins MR, et al. Consensus statement of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition: indicators recommended for the identification and documentation of pediatric malnutrition (undernutrition). J Acad Nutr Diet. 2014;114(12):1988-2000. PMID: 2548748 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25458748.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.