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Marasmus Facts

author image Allison Adams
Allison Adams has worked as a registered dietitian since 1996. She began writing professionally in 2000, with work featured in a variety of medical publications such as "Women's Health Magazine" and the "New England Journal of Medicine." Adams holds a Master of Science in nutrition and food sciences from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Marasmus Facts
African American child's hands under water Photo Credit borgogniels/iStock/Getty Images

Marasmus is a serious form of protein energy malnutrition that most commonly occurs in children living in developing countries. Poverty, lack of food and inadequate or contaminated water supplies with bacteria and parasites are factors that contribute to this disorder. Although marasmus is not a common occurrence in the developed world, marasmus can result from certain medical conditions in first-world countries. Children with cardiovascular disease, oncologic disease, genetic disorders and neurological disease can develop marasmus without the general contributing factors normally associated with marasmus.

Symptoms of Marasmus

The symptoms of marasmus depend on the severity of the malnutrition experienced by the individual, and symptoms can manifest daily or occasionally. Symptoms of marasmus include chronic and persistent diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue and dizziness. In severe cases, of marasmus symptoms also include prolonged vomiting, fainting and varying levels of consciousness, lethargy, full or partial paralysis of the legs and loss of bladder or bowel control.

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Causes and Risk Factors of Marasmus

The deficiency of both proteins and calories results in insufficient energy for the body, ultimately causing marasmus. There are several risk factors that can precipitate marasmus. However, an individual can develop this disorder without any of these risk factors. Risk factors include chronic hunger, inadequate food supplies, vitamin deficiencies, contaminated water supplies and diets without sufficient grains, fruits, vegetables and protein. You can minimize the risk of developing marasmus by eating a well balanced diet, drinking clean water and receiving proper medical treatment for infections.

Treating Marasmus

Once a doctor diagnoses marasmus, the treatment involves special feeding and rehydration therapy and requires very close medical observation. The rehabilitation requires intravenous fluids, oral hydration solutions and nasogastric feeding tubes. The nutritional value that an individual will need in the rehabilitation includes 150 kilocalories per kilogram per day. Additionally, the individual will receive treatment for vitamin and mineral deficiencies through supplementation. Further, to reduce the possibility of developing infections, doctors will administer immunizations to individuals with marasmus.

Complications of Marasmus

Marasmus can also result in very serious complications, especially in infants and children. Not having the proper nutrition can result in many developmental problems both physically and mental. Marasmus can also affect every system in your body, including your endocrine, hematopoietic, immune system, cardiovascular system, brain, nervous system and digestive tract. Some of the complications associated with marasmus include loss of vision or blindness, joint deformity and destruction, loss of strength, the failure or dysfunction of different organs and unconsciousness.

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  • "Introduction to Protein Science: Architecture, Function, and Genomics"; Arthur M. Lesk; 2010
  • "Introduction to Nutrition and Metabolism, Fourth Edition"; David A. Bender; 2002
  • "Proteins: Structure and Molecular Properties"; Thomas E. Creighton; 2011
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