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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
  • Pregnancy
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
  • 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 healthcare provider 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 what you eat to find out if you are getting enough calories and nutrients. Your healthcare provider 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 will be needed. 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 may be needed to replace vitamins and minerals your body needs. They may be given in your IV, as a shot, or as a pill.
  • Appetite stimulants are medicines that help improve your appetite so you will want to eat more.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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 or call 911?

  • You have pain in your chest, back, neck, jaw, stomach, or down one or both arms.
  • You have trouble breathing.

Care Agreement

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 healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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