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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Kwashiorkor: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

A serious condition that takes root due to a deficiency of protein in an individual’s diet, the Kwashiorkor disease is commonly observed in children worldwide. It is a severe form of malnutrition that is widespread in areas where people do not have access to protein-rich food in their diet.

Many people get confused between kwashiorkor and marasmus. It is due to the fact that both of these disorders can be grouped malnutrition, that is, deprivation of essential nutrients in the body of a person. However, there are significant differences between both these types of malnutrition. Gaining an understanding of these dangerous disorders is key to helping yourself stay protected against them.

Kwashiorkor Vs Marasmus


An empty plate and spoon, Credit: Canva

According to UNICEF, marasmus is a commonly observed type of malnutrition that happens because of the absence of nutrition and the consumption of adequate amounts of calories for muscle to survive in the long term.

Kwashiorkor, on the other hand, occurs due to fluid retention in the tissues of the body that causes the skin to swell. This symptom is mainly observed in the legs of the affected individual. The chief cause of this disorder is the extremely low levels of protein in the diets of people.

What Are Kwashiorkor Symptoms?

kwashiorkor symptoms

A girl saying no to food, Credit: Canva

As mentioned before, the leading cause behind this disease is an enormous amount of protein deficiency. Children and adults suffering from this disorder exhibit the following symptoms:

  1. Appetite loss

  2. Dehydrated body

  3. An absence of fat and muscle tissues in the body

  4. Turning of the natural hair color into yellow or orange

  5. Swelling on the limbs

  6. A constant feeling of exhaustion and annoyance

  7. Lesions in skins that are flaky and patchy

  8. Wounds that take a long time to heal

What Are the Causes of Kwashiorkor Disease?

Underdeveloped regions

A shack in Indonesia, Credit: Canva

Apart from not eating sufficient quantities of protein, factors like poor hygiene, and unawareness about the importance of providing a nutrient rich diet to babies also contribute greatly to the development of this disorder in people. This disease can also happen as a result of a chronic illness and a prolonged time spent in severe dieting that drastically restricts the consumption of essential vitamin and mineral rich food items.

A lack of knowledge about this disorder also prevents people from reversing it. Kwashiorkor is very common in countries where the bulk of the diet consist of carbohydrates like cassava, maize, or rice. It may prevent antioxidants from entering into a person’s body and supplying them with adequate nutrition. This kind of disorder is prevalent in underprivileged areas where people suffer from an extreme lack of food supplies.

Kwashiorkor  Diagnosis and Treatment

Healthy food

Children eating healthy food, Credit: Canva

This disorder can be prevented if it is detected at its early stages. Patients are treated with milk-based feeds that restore their body with adequate nutrients. It is diagnosed by measuring blood sugar and protein levels and by determining the functioning of liver and kidneys. Sometimes, skin biopsy can also be used for determining its presence.

The disease is also treated with a rehydration solution that is aimed to help the person recover from the severe levels of dehydration in the patient. Antibiotics and various vitamin supplements are also administered to the affected person to help them recover from this disorder.

Kwashiorkor, if detected at earlier stages can be easily reversed. However, many people fail to detect its presence due to lack of knowledge about it. Kwashiorkor prevention is possible only when a person consumes a nutrition rich diet and makes sure that their daily protein needs are fulfilled.

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