What are Signs of Malnutrition?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 March 2019
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When a person is malnourished, her body is not receiving the nutrients it needs, such as vitamins and minerals, to maintain its health. Being malnourished does not mean a person is missing all of her nutrients. It is possible to have a deficiency of only one or a few nutrients. In these cases, there may be specific signs of malnutrition to look for. Some general symptoms of malnutrition include fungus on the tongue, muscle wasting, and tooth decay.

In some cases, malnutrition does damage without warning signs. This means that if a person suspects that she is malnourished, she should not wait for the appearance of any of the signs. Suspicion of malnutrition should prompt a person to get medical attention.

There are some signs of malnutrition that may be easily overlooked. This is because they are such common ailments that they could be attributed to a number of problems. A good example is fatigue. People who lack proper nutrition commonly lack sufficient energy. This may cause them to be lethargic but they may not associate these symptoms with a problem in their diets.

Hair, skin, and nails are body parts that even healthy people struggle to find satisfaction with. Although these areas are commonly affected by malnutrition, many people fail to make this connection too. Hair loss, for example, is one of the symptoms of malnutrition. Dermatitis may also develop when a person is malnourished and he may have brittle nails.


Tongue fungus is commonly called oral thrush. This condition involves the growth of white patches on the tongue and sometimes on the gums. This growth is actually overgrowth because the bacteria that cause this problem are normally in the mouth. When the immune system is not functioning up to par, however, these bacteria can get out of control and constitute an infection.

Wasting is one of the more serious signs of malnutrition. When the problem reaches this stage, the body is severely malnourished. Wasting refers to a process where the body begins to break down components such as muscle and fat to compensate for the lack of nutrition. Usually, the body wastes muscle first, and then, if the problem is not corrected, it begins to consume its fat. Indicators of this include sagging skin, skeletal appearance, and lack of normal body structure.

Tooth decay is another of the obvious signs of malnutrition. It is usually difficult for people not to notice that their teeth are rotting out. When a person is malnourished, his teeth may begin to look stained and then appear to be rotting. The teeth may become brittle or they may fall out. It is also likely that the gums may show a sign of infection, such as bleeding or releasing pus.


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Post 4

I am an RN and was always working, therefore I could afford food. After doing travel nursing for two years, I was dehydrated and malnourished due to stress and no time to eat.

After what was called a stroke, I went on to have seizures and did not work for over a year. We had nothing to eat most days and due to poor water quality, also nothing to drink. I became so weak I could barely walk and some days all my legs did was quiver, leaving me too weak to walk.

I was thought to have MS and have gone back home to get medical care. Now three weeks later, I am eating and drinking and sleeping and

little by little, all symptoms have disappeared. So MS or starvation? Welcome to America. I took care of people my whole life, yet when I was in need, there were no food stamps and no medicaid. I have trouble with the law just because I am poor.
Post 2

@BrickBack - I know that signs of malnutrition in adults can lead to serious health issues because it often goes unnoticed because the symptoms are not as obvious. For example, an overweight person can be malnourished if all they eat is junk food.

This is more common than people think, but people assume that if you are overweight you have to have had the right amount of nutrients in your system which is really not the case. It is the quality of the food that matters, not the quantity

Post 1

I was reading in an article that many people that have had gastric bypass surgery are susceptible to signs of malnutrition because their body has a hard time absorbing nutrients.

They usually have to take a lot of supplements in order to maintain normal nutritional levels and many times they still have to go to the hospital because they show signs of protein malnutrition. Not everyone has these complications with the surgery, but some people do so it is something to keep in mind if you are considering this type of surgery.

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