Every child has the right to receive complete nutrition in the form of a balanced diet. This diet helps in proper growth and development of the body. But there are many unlucky children who do not even get one square meal a day, which leads to malnutrition. Children in under-developed and developing nations are severely undernourished or malnourished due to unavailability of proper food.
Malnutrition is often referred to as a lack of proper nutritional food which can lead to a number of health disorders. People from these countries are almost poor and are unable to suffice the nutrient requirement of their children.
Kwashiorkor is a kind of disorder which affects children and is caused due to malnutrition. It has a very deteriorating effect on health. This disease is commonly seen in countries which suffer from drought. Poverty is also one of the main causes of malnutrition. Kwashiorkor mainly attacks children who are below 5 years of age, and is commonly seen in children who have been weaned of breast milk. Breast milk is a rich source of amino acids and proteins which are essential for the growth of the child. Once the child has been weaned from breast milk, the nutrients need to be replaced with other protein foods.
Causes of Kwashiorkor
Kwashiorkor is caused by a diet low in protein. It can also arise due to infections
, parasites, or other conditions that interfere with protein absorption from the gastrointestinal tract
. It is most common in children living in areas hit by drought and famine, but it can be related to dietary changes
due to milk allergies in infants, fad diets, poor nutritional education, or a chaotic home life.
A child who is a victim of Kwashiorkor is completely malnourished. Such a child will exhibit the following symptoms of protein malnutrition:
- Inability to gain weight and stunted growth.
- The rib cage is visible due to a decrease in the muscle mass.
- Large and protruding belly, due to fluid or water retention in the body. This condition is also known as edema. The child may also have swollen feet.
- A thin face with bulging eyes and prominent lips.
- An enlarged liver, observed during a physical exam.
- Lethargic movement. The child may also become irritable.
- Discoloration of the skin and hair caused due to dermatitis. The skin may begin to peel away and may also become dark. The hair may also become light and may begin to fall in tufts.
- The child becomes susceptible to a number of infections and diseases due to a weak immune system. A mild infection also has the tendency to become severe in a child with a damaged immune system.
- Mental retardation.
Risk factors for kwashiorkor
A number of factors increase the risk of developing kwashiorkor. Not all people with risk factors will get kwashiorkor. Risk factors for kwashiorkor include:
- Conditions that interfere with protein absorption such as cystic fibrosis
- Dietary changes for management of milk allergies in infants and children
- Diets that is low in protein such as a vegan diet
- Drought or famine
- Infections that interfere with protein absorption
- Limited food supply, as may occur during political unrest
- Parasites such as intestinal worms
- Poor education about proper nutrition
- Prolonged hospitalisation or residence in a nursing home
Treatment of kwashiorkor depends upon its severity. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances may need to be corrected with intravenous fluids, and infections may require treatment with antibiotics.
Although the goal is to increase protein in the diet, rapid increases in calories and protein can be dangerous. Often, the calories are slowly increased by adding carbohydrates, sugars, and fat to the diet. Next, protein is gradually added. People who have malnutrition may have difficulty digesting the lactose in dairy products, so the enzyme lactase may be added. Vitamin and mineral supplements may also be used. Common treatments for kwashiorkor include:
- Antibiotics to treat infections
- Gradual increases in dietary calories from carbohydrates, sugars and fats
- Gradual increases in dietary protein
- Intravenous fluids to correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances
- Lactase to assist in digestion of dairy products
- Vitamin and mineral supplements to treat deficiencies