Refeeding Syndrome was diagnosed as a syndrome in the Japanese concentration camps survivors during World War II. This was when the survivors fell ill after they were released. The prerequisite that led to their unhealthy state was prolonged periods of starvation. Find out more in this article.
Refeeding syndrome can be defined as a condition where an individual who has endured a considerably long period of starvation or has had a poor intake of nutritional foods, when regains appetite and begins to eat normally, experiences severe metabolic and electrolytic disturbances. Regaining appetite leads to plummeting levels of content of phosphorous, potassium and magnesium, which affects the entire system and creating an imbalance in the electrolyte content. The beginning is marked by a condition of hypophosphataemia (the reduction of phosphate levels in the body).
Individuals who have not consumed food for a long period of time and have sustained malnutrition as the culminating effect are the ones most susceptible to get the refeeding syndrome after they resume balanced and healthy eating habits. Individuals who are affected by eating disorders; such as, bulimia and anorexia nervosa are also at a high risk of developing this syndrome. When the individual is fed in extreme without giving the system an adequate time to recover and resume to normalcy, the onset of various complications may spell havoc in the system.
Malnutrition due to long periods of starvation causes refeeding syndrome. When the body does not get enough nutrients to process, it begins to release considerably less insulin, the resultant phase being less carbohydrate production. Due to this, the body begins to exploit the resource of fats and proteins to generate energy. When fats and proteins are used for long periods, the electrolyte balance shifts and creates an imbalance in the potassium, calcium and phosphorous content in the body.
When the stomach has endured phases of emptiness and starvation pangs, it gradually stagnates and produces less of enzymes. There are many patients too who experience diarrhea and nausea when they begin to eat normally. Gradually the stomach starts to digest the food. The system might take 3 to 4 weeks to come back to normal and perform its respective functions properly.
The symptoms are not only associated with electrolyte imbalances, but also extend to causing gastrointestinal disturbances and cardiac complication. The symptoms of electrolyte imbalance include a drop in the levels of potassium, phosphorous and calcium. Gastrointestinal complications involve symptoms such as, abdominal pain, bloating, and, constipation.
Swelling of the hands and feet may also occur as a refeeding syndrome symptom. Cardiac complications may result in cardiac arrest leading to death of the affected individual. If the individual has had a history of an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, it is required that the eating habits be monitored in the early stages of the syndrome. This is a critical period for patients who have for long endured an eating disorder.
The electrolyte balance could be restored by replacing thiamine, also leading to correcting hypophospahteamia. Biochemical and clinical diagnosis and prognosis must continue, and constant monitoring of the condition is necessary. The only thing that could be done is prevention of this condition and the key to prevention lies in awareness. Spreading awareness about this syndrome among the hospital staff to understand if the patient is facing any risks of countering refeeding syndrome, and if so can be consequently managed.
If you know someone who has a history of an eating disorder, you must be responsible to make the individual aware about the said condition. Because prevention is always, way better than cure!
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.