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Managing Malnutrition

In order to fully understand malnutrition, it is important to learn about the causes, symptoms and consequences of this condition. This will further your understanding of how to help prevent and manage malnutrition.

  • Causes
  • Health Conditions - Some long-term health conditions and their treatments (e.g., cancer, kidney disease etc), along with recovery after surgery and some short-term illnesses can result in reduced appetite and nutrient intake. Symptoms may include, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Other conditions can cause malnutrition by reducing or preventing the body from absorbing nutrients from the diet, such as Crohn’s disease and short bowel syndrome.

  • Mental Health Conditions - There are a variety of psychological conditions which may cause a reduction in a person’s appetite and unintentional weight loss. For example, dementia can affect memory and cause physical deterioration and mood changes. These symptoms can be associated with a loss of interest in food, forgetting to eat, or low mood which can cause appetite to diminish. Sensory loss may also occur causing lack of taste or smell, also affecting appetite.

  • Increased Energy Needs - A person can become malnourished if their energy (calories) and nutrient requirements increase. There are various causes for this, such as healing after surgery or recovery after a serious injury such as a burn. If a person cannot meet their nutritional requirements, they may become malnourished.

  • Medication - Some medications can have side effects which can cause reduced dietary intake such as; nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, reduced appetite, tiredness etc.

  • Physical Conditions - There are many physical conditions which can cause poor appetite. Oral problems such as mouth ulcers, tooth decay/loss, poor fitting dentures etc., can make eating painful or difficult. Problems can also occur with swallowing which can make it difficult to eat and drink. Mobility issues and recovery from injury can directly or indirectly cause a loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss. For example, recovery from an accident can leave a person feeling weak and in pain which may make shopping and cooking difficult.

  • Consequences
  •  Unintentional weight loss 

  • Reduced appetite and lack of interest in food and drink

  • Fatigue and low in energy 

  • Feeling weak and getting ill often

  • Taking a long time to recover, heal or regain energy

  • Not growing or putting on weight at the expected rate (children)

  • Poor concentration and changes in mood

  • What to do?
  • Always seek assessment and advice by a trained medical professional, such as your GP. Depending on the issue, your GP may refer on to a specialist service, to provide more specific treatment e.g., a speech and language therapist if you are if you are experiencing swallowing difficulties, or a dietitian if you need further advice on meeting your nutritional requirements.

  • Eat a balanced diet containing energy (calories), protein, carbohydrates, fat and vitamins and minerals.

  • Eat little and often (e.g., frequent smaller meals with snacks in between)

  • Choose meals that are enjoyable and are easy to prepare (these may include foods that are tinned, frozen, ready-made, or delivered to your door)

  • Choose foods that are naturally high in energy and protein (e.g., full fat dairy options, nuts and seeds)

  • Add additional calories to your food and drinks (e.g., cream, cheese, syrups, butter and high calorie sauces)

  • Oral nutritional supplements can be used if you continue to struggle to meet your nutritional requirements. They can help to increase energy (calories) and protein intake. 

  • Always speak to a Healthcare Professional if you are suffering from a poor appetite, reduced dietary intake or unintentional weight loss and follow the advice they provide. 

To find out more information on nutrition for Adults, Children, or those in Care Homes, you can refer to the below options where you will find some condition specific advice written by healthcare professionals