Causes And Symptoms
Poverty and lack of food are the primary reasons why malnutrition occurs in the United States. Ten percent of all members of low income households do not always have enough healthful food to eat, and malnutrition affects one in four elderly Americans. Protein-energy malnutrition occurs in 50% of surgical patients and in 48% of all other hospital patients.
There is an increased risk of malnutrition associated with chronic diseases, especially disease of the intestinal tract, kidneys, and liver. Patients with chronic diseases like cancer, AIDS, and intestinal disorders may lose weight rapidly and become susceptible to undernourishment because they cannot absorb valuable vitamins, calories, and iron.
People with drug or alcohol dependencies are also at increased risk of malnutrition. These people tend to maintain inadequate diets for long periods of time and their ability to absorb nutrients is impaired by the alcohol or drug's affect on body tissues, particularly the liver, pancreas, and brain.
Unintentionally losing 10 lb (4.5 kg) or more may be a sign of malnutrition. People who are malnourished may be skinny or bloated. Their skin is pale, thick, dry, and bruises easily. Rashes and changes in pigmentation are common.
Hair is thin, tightly curled, and pulls out easily. Joints ache and bones are soft and tender. The gums bleed. The tongue may be swollen or shriveled and cracked. Visual disturbances include night blindness and increased sensitivity to light and glare.
Other symptoms of malnutrition include:
- goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
- loss of reflexes and lack of coordination
- muscle twitches
- scaling and cracking of the lips and mouth
Malnourished children may be short for their age, thin, listless, and have weakened immune systems.