Symptoms of marasmus, Marasmus and Kwashiorkor

Overview: Marasmus

Marasmus is a type of protein-energy malnutrition mainly seen in children. Marasmus is caused due to severe deficiency of nutrients like calories, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. ‌


It is more common in developing countries, like  Asia and Africa. People in these nations are prone to having poor access to food, making it difficult to get enough nutrients. Sometimes infectious diseases can cause marasmus if left untreated.

Severe protein and calorie deficiency in children result in loss of fat and muscle mass. The most common symptom of marasmus is being underweight due to malnourishment

Symptoms of marasmus

The following symptoms can occur due to deficiency, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, or infection if marasmus remains untreated for a long time:‌

A lack of food and nutrients causes both the body and mind to suffer. Children with severe marasmus appear tired and bored. They are always low in energy and enthusiasm. Such children are often irritable, short-tempered, and uninterested in things. This symptom can be confused as a sign of kwashiorkor, which is another type of malnutrition.

Causes and risk factors

Causes of marasmus include:

  • not having enough nutrition or having too little food
  • consuming the wrong nutrients or too much of one and not enough of another

having a health condition that makes it difficult to absorb or process nutrients correctly

How does marasmus affect old people?

  1. Older adults who live alone and find it difficult to prepare food and care for themselves may be at risk. Sometimes marasmus can affect an older adult who has not eaten healthfully over a period of some months or years, says the University of Kansas Landon Center on Aging.

2. Consuming the wrong nutrients and having a health condition can contribute to marasmus, each of these alone would probably not be enough to cause it, as long as calories are available.

Marasmus in breastfeeding infants

In places where food can be scarce, breastfeeding infants for as long as possible may help reduce the risk of malnutrition. However, if breastfeeding continues for longer than 6 months without an infant receiving solid food, the risk of marasmus can also increase, especially if the mother is malnourished herself.

Those born preterm or with low birth weight may also have a predisposition to malnutrition afterward. Appropriate support and nutrition during pregnancy and in a child’s early years are essential for preventing malnutrition.

What is kwashiorkor?

Kwashiorkor is another severe form of protein-energy malnutrition where the main deficiency is protein. Unlike marasmus, kwashiorkor causes the body to retain fluid in the lower legs, feet, arms, hands, and face, leading to a swollen appearance.

Kwashiorkor may also result in a person having a distended or bulging abdomen. But, someone with kwashiorkor may not have a particularly low weight, because the fluid buildup makes up for the loss in body fat and muscle tissue. According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a child with kwashiorkor will have a weight that is 60 to 80 percent of the standard weight for their age.

Other symptoms of kwashiorkor include:

  • loss of appetite
  • lack of energy
  • irritability
  • changes in hair color to yellow or orange

Skin problems are a complication of kwashiorkor. These can include:

  • skin ulcers developing
  • lesions beginning to leak or bleed
  • patches of skin turning unusually light or dark
  • skin shedding

Liver problems can occur with kwashiorkor, but they are rare with marasmus.

Kwashiorkor needs immediate diagnosis and treatment, as it can quickly become life-threatening.

Marasmic kwashiorkor

Marasmic kwashiorkor is the third form of protein-energy malnutrition that combines features and symptoms of both marasmus and kwashiorkor. A person with marasmic kwashiorkor may: be extremely thin, show signs of wasting in areas of the body, have excessive fluid buildup in other parts In children with marasmus kwashiorkor, the weight will be less than 60 percent of the standard weight for their age. As the condition progresses, recovery becomes more difficult, and the chances of survival reduce.

Difference Between Marasmus and Kwashiorkor

‌Like marasmus, kwashiorkor is a type of malnutrition caused by protein deficiency. It mainly occurs in children who are weaning off breast milk, while marasmus can develop in infants. If your diet has a lot of carbohydrates and very few proteins, you may develop kwashiorkor.

The main symptoms of kwashiorkor include:

  • ‌Skin, nail, and hair diseases
  • ‌Cracking or pain at the corner of your lips
  • ‌Stunted growth
  • ‌Low energy and lethargy‌ Edema, or swelling, due to fluid retention in your body
  • ‌Round, puffy, or swollen face
  •  ‌Bulging or distended belly


1.. Marasmus is a life-threatening medical emergency. When symptoms appear, the person needs treatment straight away.

2. Feeding plan, which may include intravenous (IV) nutrition, is required for a person with marasmus.

  1. Rapid weight loss, infections, and sudden changes in behavior or appetite could be signs of an underlying problem, such as an eating disorder or a chronic health condition.
  2. If the person has anorexia nervosa, a team of professionals may be involved.

5. A medical professional will need to prepare a specific eating plan for anyone with a diagnosis of marasmus.

It is critical for a person with marasmus to receive a diet treatment that is rich in nutrients, carbohydrates, and calories. They will need more calories than is usual for their age. However, their body may find it hard to tolerate or digest food after losing so much fat and body tissue. One solution is for doctors to provide food in small amounts and possibly through tubes to the veins and stomach. These tubes allow food and fluid to be delivered to the body quickly and directly. A full recovery can still take months, even with the right treatment plan. An individual may also need treatment for the complications, such as infections and dehydration.


The best way to prevent marasmus is to have an adequate intake of calories and protein, preferably from a healthful, well-balanced diet.

Foods rich in protein such as

skimmed milk, fish eggs, and nuts are ideal for energy and growth, though any protein and calorie-rich food can be used to prevent marasmus.


Vegetables and fruits are essential for providing other nutrients and minerals and for preventing vitamin deficiencies.

A person who has recovered or is recovering from marasmus should take care to avoid complications, including dehydration and diarrhea.

Sanitation and hygiene

1. Poor sanitation and hygiene can lead to infections that can worsen the symptoms of marasmus and other types of malnutrition and make it harder to recover.

  1. sanitation and hygiene can play a role in marasmus, especially in places where there is not a regular supply of healthful food and clean water.

3. Boiling water before drinking, cooking, or bathing in areas where clean water is difficult to access is essential to prevent the spreading of waterborne diseases.

4. Breastfeeding infants for 6 months can help protect them from nutritional difficulties, especially in places where food is short.

5. Cooking foods at high heat to destroy bacteria can help, as can freezing food and reheating it before eating.

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