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  • Writer's pictureShruti GOCHHWAL

Kwashiorkor Disease: Severe Protein Deficiency in Children That’s Scary

It is commonly observed that the children of those regions that fall victim to natural disasters like famine and floods have a distinct appearance. Their bodies do not develop as they should, and their feet, stomach, and face become swollen. A limited supply of food deprives them of consuming a nutritious diet, thus making them develop a condition that occurs due to a lack of protein called the Kwashiorkor disease.

Here many people may confuse kwashiorkor and marasmus with each other, often considering both one and the same. However, marasmus is caused primarily due to an absence of sufficient calories and nutrition in an individual’s body which leads to muscle wastage in the long run. Kwashiorkor is the direct result of a continued deficiency of protein that causes the skin present in their legs, to retain water and swell. Increasingly more and more children in underdeveloped countries are falling prey to this dangerous disorder. Can it be reversed?

Causes and Symptoms of Kwashiorkor in Children


Illustration of malnourished people, Credit: Canva

Every cell in a child’s as well as in an adult’s body is made up of protein. This macronutrient is vital for the repair and regeneration of muscles and tissues. The importance of protein is utmost during the early stages of a child’s life. In its absence, it becomes impossible for the child to grow and develop optimally. Kwashiorkor develops when children are not provided with adequate quantities of protein-rich nutritious food through their diet. Natural disasters like famine, droughts, and floods in underdeveloped countries like Southeast Asia and Africa make children dependent on diets that lack protein. Hence kwashiorkor develops as its consequence.

Children in these areas are also prone to other diseases related to malnutrition like marasmus. But it is important to note that the difference between kwashiorkor vs marasmus lies chiefly in the kind of deprivation that a child experiences. A child suffering from kwashiorkor is facing an extreme lack of protein while the one suffering from marasmus is eating very low calories that is unable to maintain his health in the long run.

Some of the major kwashiorkor symptoms include:

  1. Hair of the child turning yellow or orange in color.

  2. Exhaustion

  3. Diarrhea

  4. Inability to put on weight

  5. Edema or skin swelling especially in feet, belly, and ankles

  6. Slow healing infections

  7. Rashes that are flaky

Can Kwashiorkor Be Treated?

Protein rich food

Protein rich food, Credit: Canva

Contrary to what many may think, this disease can be reversed by increasing the quantities of protein and calories in a person’s diet. The affected child, when fed with higher amounts of calories from carbohydrate rich food items provides him with energy after which protein rich food items are introduced.

During this process, the calories are increased gradually and not suddenly so as to help the body adjust to its higher levels. Along with it, vitamins and minerals supplements are also administered to the patient. Various antibiotics are also recommended by the doctors to help the child recover from various infections. Recovery is a slow process and it will take around two to six weeks for the child to fully recover from this disorder depending upon its severity. If this condition remains untreated then the child may develop long term mental and physical disabilities. So, it’s essential to get it treated at the beginning itself.

Kwashiorkor prevention is certainly possible, but for that people need to open their eyes to the presence of this widespread disorder. A protein-rich, when consumed right from the beginning is the key to avoiding such health complications to develop in your child.

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