What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition occurs when you do not get enough calories or nutrients to keep you healthy. Nutrients include protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
What increases my risk of malnutrition?
- Not eating the right amount or kinds of food
- Inability to digest and absorb nutrients properly
- A health condition that increases the amount of calories your body needs
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
- Certain medicines
- Drug or alcohol abuse
What are the signs and symptoms of malnutrition?
- Irritable (bad mood) and tired
- Slower growth than normal, or no growth (in children)
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Slow wound healing and an increase in infections
- Bone or joint pain, weak muscles, or sunken temples
- Brittle and spooned nails
- Dry, scaly skin or change in skin color
- Change of hair color, or hair loss
- Bloated abdomen and swelling in other parts of the body
How is malnutrition diagnosed?
Your caregiver will examine you and check your height and weight. He may ask you questions about your health and the medicines that you take. He may also ask you questions about what you eat to find out if you are getting enough calories and nutrients. Your caregiver may also do blood tests to find out if your body is low in certain nutrients.
How is malnutrition treated?
Treatment depends on what caused your malnutrition. You may need medicine to treat a health problem that is causing your malnutrition.
- Increased calories and nutrients: A dietitian may help you plan larger, healthy meals. If you have trouble eating larger meals, eat small meals throughout the day. You may need to include snacks between meals. You may need to eat or drink a nutrition supplement if you have trouble eating the right kinds and amounts of food.
- Vitamins and minerals: These may help replace vitamins and minerals your body needs. They may be given in your IV, as a shot, or as a pill.
- Appetite stimulants: These medicines help improve your appetite so you will want to eat more.
What are the risks of malnutrition?
Malnutrition usually develops in stages. Malnutrition may make your body weak and cause health problems such as trouble fighting infections and slowed healing. Severe malnutrition may cause heart problems, breathing problems, and kidney problems. It can also cause changes in the level of chemicals in your blood called electrolytes. If untreated, severe malnutrition can be life-threatening.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You lose a large amount of weight within a short amount of time.
- You feel depressed, confused, tired, irritable, and you do not feel like eating.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You have pain in your chest, back, neck, jaw, stomach, or down one or both arms.
- You have trouble breathing.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.