Malnutrition occurs when the body does not get enough nutrients. This can mean not getting enough food overall, which can lead to starvation, or can be the lack of a single nutrient, such as vitamin C deficiency, which can lead to scurvy. Causes of malnutrition include not having enough food to eat, not being able to eat a balanced diet, having medical problems that prevent food from being absorbed properly or having psychological problems, such as anorexia nervosa.
Symptoms vary according to the type of malnutrition and the severity of the problem. If an individual's case is mild, the person may not show any symptoms at all. General symptoms of this condition can include dizziness, tiredness, or weight loss. A person should contact a physician when the individual experiences fainting or hair loss. In addition, a woman should contact her doctor if her menstrual cycle stops, and parents should contact a pediatrician if their child is not growing properly.
The problem is more difficult in areas of widespread poverty or famine. First, there may not be adequate supplies of food. Second, people may not have the money to purchase food that is available. Third, there may not be enough doctors and physicians available to treat not only malnutrition, but any underlying causes beyond lack of food that may be leading to this condition.
Getting adequate nutrition is critical for growing children. Children can develop a condition called marasmus, where the child's growth is stunted and the child's body is thinner than it should be, if there is a severe lack of food available. Another condition that children can develop is called kwashiorkor. Kwashiorkor occurs when the child gets enough calories, but not enough protein when eating. Symptoms of kwashiorkor include apathy, delayed development, and an enlarged liver.
While the elderly do not need as much food as they did when they were younger, the elderly can be prone to developing malnutrition. Some older adults lose their sense of smell, which can make eating unappetizing. The elderly sometimes produce less stomach acid, making absorbing nutrients more difficult. In addition, it just may be more difficult physically to prepare and eat healthy meals.
Treatments vary according to the cause of the problem. For example, if the root cause is a medical condition, the medical condition has to be diagnosed and treated before the person can return to health. Not all of the symptoms can be "cured." For example, damage to bones and to nerves may not be reversible.