Malnutrition

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Signs and Symptoms

General malnutrition often develops slowly, over months or years. As the body's store of nutrients is depleted, changes begin to happen at the cellular level, affecting biochemical processes and decreasing the body's ability to fight infections. Over time, a variety of symptoms may begin to emerge, including:

  • Retarded growth, bloated abdomen, listlessness (in children)
  • Anemia
  • Weight loss, decreased muscle mass, and weakness
  • Dry scaly skin
  • Edema
  • Brittle, thinning hair
  • Brittle and malformed (spooned) nails
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Slow wound healing
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Mental changes such as confusion and irritability
  • Goiter

Specific nutrient deficiencies may cause characteristic symptoms. For instance, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to tingling, numbness, and burning in the hands and feet (due to nerve damage); a lack of vitamin A may cause night blindness and increased sensitivity to light; and a lack of vitamin D can cause bone pain, malformation, or osteomalacia. The severity of symptoms depends on the intensity and duration of the deficiency. Some changes, such as to bone and nerves, may be irreversible.

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