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Malnutrition is an imbalance of essential nutrients in the body. It occurs when one does not follow a balanced diet, or if one's diet lacks in sufficient amounts of nutritious foods. This could lead to undernutrition or overnutrition. Starvation is an extreme form of undernutrition, which is more likely to affect people in underdeveloped countries. If the diet doesn't contain the right amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, it can give rise to several health problems. At times, malnourishment might occur due to problems associated with digestion or absorption of nutrients. The symptoms of malnutrition could be observed at any age. The following sections list out some of these symptoms.

Symptoms Observed in Malnourished Children

Infants and growing children are often affected by malnutrition. Symptoms that might be experienced by a malnourished child include:

Dry and flaking skin with scales
Swollen and painful joints
Weakness in the muscle and trembling
Osteoporosis (a condition wherein the bones can break easily)
Dizziness and slowed reflexes
Fatigue and loss of energy
Weight loss
Growth retardation
Problems associated with functioning of the organs
Bleeding gums and tooth decay
Weak immune system
Poor memory
Deficiencies of Vitamin A that can cause loss of vision
Measles
Mumps
Kwashiorkar
Marasmus

Kwashiokar and Marasmas occur due to loss of protein energy metabolism. They are often indicative of malnutrition.

Symptoms Observed in Malnourished Adults

Malnutrition could cause serious health problems like diabetes, obesity, hypertension, etc., and could give rise to symptoms such as:

Edema
Anemia
Dry scaly skin
Brittle hair without pigment and nourishment
Brittle nails
Loss of appetite
Weight loss
Weakened muscles
Pain in the joints
Weakened immune system
Chronic diarrhea
Goiter
Increased protein energy malnutrition
Bad mood and constant irritability
Exhaustion and fatigue

Symptoms Observed in Malnourished Elderly

When an old person is malnourished or dehydrated, he/she is likely to experience the following symptoms:

Confusion and disorientation
Irritability and uncontrolled anger
Tachycardia, a condition characterized by a rapid heartbeat
Low output of urine
Dry and scaly skin
Constipation and bowel obstruction
Dizziness

Contributing Factors for Malnourishment

Poverty is one of the main reasons of malnutrition in a number of countries. The lack of healthy, nutritious food weakens the immune system, which in turn makes one susceptible to other fatal diseases. Almost 50% of the world's population is affected by protein energy malnutrition due to unhealthy eating habits. Individuals affected by chronic diseases like AIDS and cancer can also be affected by this condition. Alcohol or drug consumption could also lead to malnourishment. Dieters could also get affected.

Though this condition can be easily diagnosed when the symptoms of malnutrition are quite prominent, certain diagnostic tests are also conducted. For instance, doctors might compare the weight of the patient with standardized charts and conduct an X-ray examination for checking the bones. Physical examination, blood tests, and analysis of behavior of the affected individual can also help them determine if a person is affected by malnutrition or not. Following a healthy, balanced diet and staying physically active can help prevent this serious condition. Drug therapy and other forms of treatment can be recommended in case malnourishment is attributed to disorders associated with malabsorption.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.