Kwashiorkor is a form of severe malnutrition due to long-term protein deficiency. Typical symptoms in sufferers of kwashiorkor are swelling of the body and enlarged abdomen.

Kwashiorkor is most common in poor and developing countries. This is because people in these countries find it difficult to get food. In addition, they also do not know about nutritionally balanced food sources.

Although both types of malnutrition , kwashiorkor and marasmus are different conditions. Marasmus is a deficiency in overall calorie and nutritional intake, which includes carbohydrates, proteins , and fats.

Meanwhile, kwashiorkor occurs when the amount of calorie intake may be sufficient but the amount of protein intake is very less. Kwashiorkor generally occurs in children under the age of 5 years.

Causes of Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor is caused by a long-term deficiency of protein, vitamins and minerals. In addition, children who only eat carbohydrate-sourced foods, such as rice and corn, can also experience kwashiorkor in the long term.

Risk factors for kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor can occur in all age groups, but is more common in children. In addition, the following factors can also increase the risk of developing kwashiorkor:

  • Poverty
  • Living in an environment with poor sanitation
  • Prolonged illness (chronic) that can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, such as HIV/AIDS
  • Lack of knowledge about nutritious food
  • Diets that are too strict
  • Abandonment
  • The impact of war, crop failure, and natural disasters

Symptoms of Kwashiorkor

One of the functions of protein is to maintain the balance of fluid volume inside and outside the blood vessels. If protein intake is lacking, the body's fluid balance will be disturbed and fluid from the blood vessels leaks into the tissues. This condition causes the body of a kwashiorkor sufferer to experience swelling.

Swelling generally occurs in the legs, but can affect the whole body, even the face. In addition to swelling, kwashiorkor can also cause the following symptoms:

  • Decrease in muscle thickness
  • Growing belly
  • Reddish, dry, scaly, or flaky skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair becomes dry, brittle, breaks easily, and even changes color to reddish yellow like corn hair
  • Developmental disorders
  • Infectious diseases that occur in the long term or are difficult to cure
  • Often limp
  • Children are more fussy and cry a lot

When to see a doctor

Immediately consult your child to the doctor if he experiences the symptoms of kwashiorkor as mentioned above. Examination and treatment by a doctor need to be done quickly to prevent complications.

Handling also needs to be done to treat diseases that cause kwashiorkor. This is because nutrition alone cannot cure kwashiorkor if the underlying disease is not treated.

Diagnosis of Kwashiorkor

First of all, the doctor will conduct a question and answer regarding the patient's medical history, food intake, and the environment where the patient lives. After that, the doctor will carry out a physical examination, such as measuring the patient's height and weight, and seeing swelling throughout the body.

To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will also carry out supporting examinations in the form of blood tests and urine tests . The examination aims to assess hemoglobin (Hb) levels, blood sugar, protein ( albumin ) in the blood, kidney function, and electrolyte levels .

Through blood tests and urine tests, doctors can also detect infections that may occur in people with kwashiorkor.

Treatment of Kwashiorkor

Treatment of kwashiorkor will be adjusted to the severity of the patient's condition. If kwashiorkor is detected early and is not severe, the doctor will provide a special formula or ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). This special formula is made from a mixture of milk, sugar, oil, nuts, vitamins and minerals.

In patients with severe kwashiorkor or accompanied by an infection, the doctor will suggest hospitalization. The following are actions that doctors can take:

  • Give intravenous fluids consisting of electrolytes and glucose
  • Cover the patient to prevent hypothermia
  • Treat dehydration
  • Treat the infection with antibiotics

In addition to the above actions, doctors can also give RUTF slowly and gradually. If the patient has difficulty eating, the doctor will provide this special food using a feeding tube that is placed in the nose or mouth.

In children, providing good nutrition needs to be done until the condition is stable and reaches the stage of growth and development according to their age. This treatment is generally carried out for 2–6 weeks.

Kwashiorkor complications

Untreated Kwashiorkor can cause complications in the form of:

  • Children fail to thrive and are stunted
  • Permanent brain, liver and kidney damage
  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Coma
  • Dead

Prevention of Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor can be prevented by meeting the daily calorie and protein intake requirements according to age. Protein can be obtained by consuming food sources of animal protein , such as beef, chicken, fish, seafood , eggs and milk.

In addition to animal protein, it is also important for children to consume food sources of vegetable protein , such as tempeh, tofu and nuts, in sufficient levels.

In addition to meeting daily nutritional needs, don't delay seeing a doctor if you have complaints or symptoms of certain diseases, so you can get the right treatment. This is because several types of diseases can affect the body's absorption of nutrients.

Back to blog