Kwashiorkor is a medical condition that develops due to an insufficient intake of proteins. Initial symptoms include fatigue, weariness, irritability, and lethargy. As the protein deficiency continues, one will notice growth failure, loss of muscle mass, edema or generalized swelling, and lowered immune system functioning.
Kwashiorkor is an acute form of childhood PEM or protein energy malnutrition. It is characterized by exhaustion, irritability, edema, anorexia, ulcerating dermatoses, and enlargement of the liver.
What Causes Kwashiorkor?
The primary cause for kwashiorkor is severe deficiency of protein. Infections, parasites, or disease-conditions that get in the way of protein absorption are significant causes as well. Kwashiorkor is extremely common among children living in drought affected and famine affected areas.
Vegan diets too, are known to cause kwashiorkor. No education about nutrition and prolonged hospitalization are important causes of PEM too.
Aflatoxin poisoning is one another significant cause. Foods contaminated with molds, when consumed cause poisoning. The aflatoxin that is released by these molds damage the liver. Serum proteins, especially albumin, are manufactured by the liver; thus liver impairment triggers kwashiorkor.
Symptoms of Kwashiorkor
The symptoms of kwashiorkor tend to develop slowly over a period of time. Common symptoms include:
Swelling and distension of the abdomen
Irritation and peevishness
Swelling of the liver
Exhaustion and fatigue
The hair turns red, nails become very brittle, and soft and ridged
A host of changes take place in the skin as well
Kwashiorkor can turn serious and life threatening as well. Neglect and inappropriate treatment can aggravate the condition considerably and cause a host of complications. Commonly seen complications are:
Kwashiorkor is effectively and successfully treated by incorporating adequate amounts of protein-rich foods in the daily diet. Include plenty of soy, legumes, fish, meat, milk, yogurt, and beans. Along with managing the protein energy malnourishment, it is also essential to manage a deficit of other nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances must be treated as well.
The doctor will make the following prescriptions to tackle kwashiorkor symptoms:
Antibiotics to treat infections
Slow and steady increase in the amount of calories consumed from carbohydrates and fats
Gradual increase in protein intake
IV fluids to rectify fluid and electrolyte disproportion
Lactase supplements need to be given in case of milk allergies to facilitate digestion of dairy products
Vitamin and mineral supplements are prescribed
By and large, the prognosis of kwashiorkor is good. Regularly, following the dietary and supplement prescriptions helps manage the symptoms of the disorder immediately. However, neglect and inappropriate treatment can result in complications, such as, liver damage, impairment of the brain, poor growth and development, shock, coma; which can prove to be very serious and life threatening, and thus adversely affect the outcome of the case.