Kwashiorkor: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Kwashiorkor Symptoms Treatment

Kwashiorkor otherwise known as “edematous malnutrition” or “protein malnutrition” is a nutritional disorder caused by the lack of protein in a child’s diet and it is often characterized by extremely thin appearance, changes in skin pigment, loss of muscle mass, etc. The name ‘Kwashiorkor‘ was coined by Jamaican paediatrician Cicely Williams in 1935. It was derived from the Ga language in Ghana.
Kwashiorkor is a common disease in Nigeria that affects many young children they’re over 200,000 cases of Kwashiorkor in Nigeria.
However, the basic aim of this article is to examine this painful health condition, ranging from its common causes, symptoms, treatments of Kwashiorkor, as well as how to prevent its occurrence.

What are The Causes of Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor Causes Symptoms

Protein deficiency is the major cause of Kwashiorkor. The reason is that every cell in your body requires a substantial amount of protein to be able to repair cells and produce newer ones. A healthy human body is that which is able to regenerate cells easily and constantly.
In addition to the above, protein is very essential for growth during pregnancy as well as infancy. When there is no sufficient flow of protein in the body system, the normal body functions will begin to decline, and may later result in kwashiorkor.
However, the cases of Kwashiorkor occurs most frequently in countries where nutritious foods are not in proportional supply, and some of the countries with the highest records of this condition include DR Congo, Malawi, Rwanda, Togo, and Cameroon. The record shows that these countries have some of the highest rates of Kwashiorkor admissions and the average age of the patients ranges from 6 months to 30 months.

On the other hand, Kwashiorkor is rarely recorded in countries where there are abundant foods with high protein content. Even if it occurs in countries like this, it could be as a result of neglect, abuse, fad diets, or HIV.

Some other causes of Kwashiorkor include the following:

  • consuming the wrong nutrients
  • having a certain health condition that hinders the adequate absorption or processing of nutrients
  • imbalanced nutrition
  • inadequate knowledge about nutrition
  • Kwashiorkor could also be an underlying symptom of HIV.

What are The Symptoms of Kwashiorkor?

Kwashiorkor Symptoms Treatment

Generally, children with kwashiorkor often have edema (excess water retention in body tissues) which makes them look extremely thin and become very weak. Other common symptoms of kwashiorkor include the following:

  • Changes in skin pigment
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Fatigue
  • Stunted growth
  • Diarrhea
  • Flaky rash
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy and irritability
  • Swelling
  • Rash.

Kwashiorkor if not treated for a long time may result in severe health conditions, including permanent physical and mental disabilities, lowered body temperature, enlargement of the liver. If you are wondering if kwashiorkor can kill you a patient, the answer is yes. If the body is starved of protein for a long time, the condition will become deadly.

How is Kwashiorkor Treated?

Remember it was stated earlier that protein deficiency is the major cause of kwashiorkor, hence, the best way to correct this condition is by eating more protein as well as abundant calories.
However, the treatment approach to be taken depends on how severe the condition is; for instance, if it has developed into shock the patient in question must be subjected to a very quick treatment so as to restore his or her blood volume and maintain blood pressure.
Normally, kwashiorkor treatment usually begins by restoring and improving the patient’s energy which is often done by giving him/her some calories in the form of carbohydrates, sugars and fats. After gaining some energy, the patient will then be given foods that contain a substantial amount of protein. For quick and better results, Doctor may also suggest the intake of long-term vitamin and mineral supplementation.
However, it is best to increase the calorie intake very slowly because the body has long been deprived of proper nutrition and thus it may require enough time to adjust to the sudden increase.

Can Kwashiorkor be Prevented?

Yes, Kwashiorkor can be prevented!
The best way to prevent Kwashiorkor is by eating a well-balanced diet; the overall calories must contain a minimum of 10% and 12% of carbohydrates and protein respectively.

Other proven kwashiorkor prevention techniques are as follows:

  • Pregnant and lactating women should eat only nutritious foods.
  • Breastfeeding should be encouraged over bottle feeding.
  • People should acquire more knowledge of what a balanced diet is.
  • Parents should only give birth based on their financial capacity.
  • Early symptoms of Kwashiorkor should be reported as soon as possible to the doctor.

Can kwashiorkor occur in adults?

Kwashiorkor is mainly common in children and rare in adults. However, Kwashiorkor can also occur in adults, but, the symptoms are a bit different from that of children.

Bottom Line

Kwashiorkor is a nutritional disorder majorly caused by protein deficiency, and if it not treated for a long time, it may further result in severe health conditions, including Permanent physical and mental disabilities, lowered body temperature, enlargement of the liver, to mention but a few.
Fortunately, this health condition is preventable; all you need do is to start/keep eating foods that are highly nutritious and also observe other prevention techniques highlighted earlier. There are so many healthy Nigerian foods that contain proteins.
A balanced diet is the key to preventing Kwashiorkor – go for it!


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