Malnutrition Symptoms

Common Malnutrition Symptoms

Malnutrition symptoms are many and varied. They can be pronounced, in the case where someone is on the verge of starvation, or they can be subtle, even to the point of barely being noticeable at all. There are some very general malnutrition symptoms, which are touched upon here, but it's difficult to tell what symptoms will be present, or in what order, when a person becomes malnourished. For one thing, malnutrition usually occurs over a period of time, some times years, and while malnutrition can be defined as a shortage or lack of nutrients, the symptoms often depend upon which nutrients are in short supply. A person with a vitamin deficiency would presumably experience different symptoms than one having a deficiency in one or more minerals.


Malnutrition is something that can be prevented or avoided. Unfortunately, there are places in this world where healthy food is in short supply, or even if the food is available the means of distribution are inadequate. In other instances food is relatively plentiful, but the right kinds of food are not. In other words, there are people who do not grow hungry, but neither to they have access to a healthy, balanced diet, and consequently can suffer from malnutrition.

In other cases it's simply a matter of ignorance or not caring. There are plenty of people who are in no danger of starving, nor is malnutrition a threat. Yet they do not eat the foods they should be eating, even when those foods are readily available, and as a consequence, their diets is often lacking in nutrients the body needs. Even though we only need trace amounts of certain minerals, we still need them if the cells in our body are to function as they should.


Near Term Symptoms - In the near term, the more common symptoms of malnutrition are weight loss, fatigue, and often dizziness or lightheadedness. Ironically, some who are suffering from malnutrition do not lose weight but gain it, simply because they eat the wrong kinds of foods, food which supply sufficient nutrition to prevent starvation, but not enough of the nutrients needed to keep the body healthy.

Mid-Stage Symptoms - Immune System Problems - In the longer term, the immune system begins to suffer from a lack of nutrients. One of the key functions of our immune system is to fight of infection. Consequently, one of the malnutrition symptoms which eventually makes an appearance is an inability on the part of the body to fight off infection. The body becomes more susceptible to viral infections of one kind or another. Wounds heal less quickly, and as such are susceptible to bacterial infections. A compromised immune system can lead to many different complications which, while not directly related to malnutrition, are in fact caused by it.

Latter Stage Symptoms - Other malnutrition symptoms manifest themselves in the appearance of the skin, which often becomes dry and scaly. The hair and fingernails exhibit malnutrition symptoms as well, becoming brittle. Hair can lose its pigmentation, becoming gray. In latter stages, malnutrition symptoms are in evidence as sore joints and muscles, as well as weakened muscles. Digestive problems set in. Severe malnutrition begins to take its toll on a person's mental capacity and capabilities, with symptoms ranging from irritability, to confusion, to feelings of lethargy.

While we often hear about or see pictures of malnourished children, many of whom show extreme signs of the condition, the elderly are also at risk. With the elderly, it is often a problem of not eating right or eating enough, often due to medical reasons. Some older people gradually lose their sense of taste, or have dental problems which make eating an unpleasant activity. Their eating choices become restrictive, and as a result they do not get enough of certain nutrients, and malnutrition slowly sets in.