Protein-energy malnutrition, as the name suggests, is caused due to deficiency of proteins. The condition can be potentially fatal.
Protein is an important nutrient as it is required for the development of human body. It should be noted that the requirement for proteins continues for a lifetime, and hence, a person should consume proteins till old age. Failing to do so can result in deficiency diseases. Protein-energy Malnutrition (PEM), also known as protein-calorie malnutrition, is one such disorder caused due to severe deficiency of protein. It is a body-depletion disorder.
PEM is divided into four types, viz: primary, secondary, Kwashiorkor, and Marasmus. In simplest terms, it can be explained as a condition that occurs when the proteins consumed do not meet the amount of proteins required. This condition is usually found in case of older people (specially those suffering from chronic condition) and children. Protein deficiency and PEM can be caused due to a variety of reasons like lack of proper diet, suffering from a disease like kidney disease and cancer, chronic starvation, etc. In children, it usually occurs due to having a diet severely lacking in nutrients. It is mostly found in underdeveloped or developing countries.
Weight loss and difficulty in weight gain, brittle hair and nails, etc., are the classic symptoms. However, the symptoms of kwashiorkar and marasmus are found to vary. Edema, pot belly, moon face, growth retardation, fatty liver, flaky, and dry skin, etc., are the symptoms of kwashiorkar; whereas, in case of marasmus, one may experience weight loss, stunted growth, apathy, dry and wrinkled skin, and mood swings. Apart from these symptoms, one may also experience difficulty in breathing, loss of appetite, thin and discolored hair, loss of muscle and tissue, etc. If babies or children suffer from PEM from an early age, they may have stunted growth and height. Similarly, long-lasting or chronic deficiency of protein can also lead to a weakened immune system.
As the symptoms are easy to identify, a physical examination by the doctor will help in diagnosing the disease. On the other hand, blood and urine tests, tests for hemoglobin, electrolytes, etc., are also helpful. Treatment involves correcting the protein deficiency which can be done with the help of several methods. In the initial stage, it can be treated with the help of IV or intravenous fluids. It helps in treating the electrolyte imbalance and deficiency of protein. Secondly, protein supplements are immediately administered to reverse the condition. Although in extreme cases it may not be possible to reverse the condition fully, medications and supplements will definitely help in preventing further damage. A protein rich diet consisting of fish, meat, poultry, milk, beans, and legumes, etc., is advised which should be followed immediately.
This can be a life-threatening condition if not diagnosed and treated at a proper time. Therefore, it is essential to keep a close check on the related symptoms observed. Having a proper and balanced diet can help in the prevention of several deficiency diseases. Take care!
Disclaimer: This article is meant only to provide information. It is not to be used as a substitute for doctor’s advice.