Marasmus | Causes of Marasmus and Treatment | Nutrition

What is marasmus?

Marasmus is a serious form of protein-energy malnutrition that happens when a person does not consume sufficient protein and calories. Without these vital nutrients, energy levels become dangerously low, and vital functions begin to stop.

Both adults and children can get this, but it most often affects young children in developing countries.

UNICEF estimates that nearly half of all deaths of children under 5 years of age, or about 3 million each year, are due to lack of nutrition.

Symptoms of marasmus

The main symptom is underweight. Children with this disorder have lost a lot of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat fair below the skin. Dry skin and hard hair are also symptoms of marasmus.

In children with marasmus, the following may also occur:

  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Respiratory infections
  • Intellectual disability
  • Stunted growth

Severely malnourished children may appear older and have little or no energy or enthusiasm for anything. This can also make children quick-tempered and irritable, but this is usually a more common symptom of kwashiorkor.

Kwashiorkor is another form of severe malnutrition. Kwashiorkor causes fluid to build up in the body that can cause the face to become round and the belly to distend.

Causes of marasmus

Nutrient deficiency is the main cause of marasmus. It occurs in children who do not eat enough protein, calories, carbohydrates, and other important nutrients. This is generally due to poverty and food shortages.

There are several types of malnutrition. A malnourished child can have more than just marasmus. Among the most common types of malnutrition are serious deficiencies in:

  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin A

Risk factors

Risk factors for marasmus include:

  • People who live in developing countries are at higher risk of getting marasmus.
  • Areas affected by hunger and poverty have a higher percentage of children suffering from marasmus.
  • If babies are not breastfed by nursing mothers due to malnutrition, the risk of marasmus in children increases.
  • Insufficient medical care and high rates of illness are other reasons that increase the risk of marasmus in the population.


This deficiency disease can be diagnosed by the doctor through a physical examination such as:

  • Skin test for the functioning of the immune system.
  • A blood test to check for microbial infections.
  • Height, weight, and physical activity of a child rendering to age.
  • General counselling of a child to study the child’s mental state and behaviour.
  • Urine and stool test to examine diarrhoea and other nutritional deficiency disorders.

Treatment of marasmus

A nutritious, well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and protein will reduce the risk of malnutrition and any related marasmus.

Treatment of marasmus involves a special diet and rehydration plan and close medical observation to prevent and control complications of malnutrition. In some countries and regions, pediatric nutritional rehabilitation centres have been established to coordinate the treatment of malnourished children. Intravenous fluids, oral rehydration solutions, and nasogastric feeding tubes are forms of treatment that can be used.


  • A well-balanced diet with an adequate intake of protein and vitamin supplements.
  • In those who are critically ill, early enteral feeding can significantly reduce malnutrition.
  • Reduce infections in endemic areas by promoting vaccination, as infections contribute to malnutrition.
  • Providing adequate food in nations devastated by war or in countries susceptible to famine.


Complications connected to malnutrition are chiefly serious in infants and young children. Lack of proper nutrition can cause delays in physical and mental development. Complications from untreated marasmus can be serious and can include:

  • Growth problems in children
  • Joint deformity and destruction
  • Loss of strength
  • Vision loss and blindness
  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Unconsciousness and coma
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