Malnutrition Frequently Asked Questions
Malnutrition is an imbalance between the nutrition the body needs and the nutrition it actually receives through food.
Disease-related malnutrition primarily refers to inadequate nutrient intake, most commonly protein and energy, and can be a result of increased requirements and/or a decreased capacity to absorb nutrients due to illness and disease.
Both terms refer to a nutritional imbalance, which can be over or under. Malnutrition occurs when a person gets too much or too little of certain nutrients; it is a diagnosable condition and requires treatment. Malnourishment is when we lack the nutrition necessary for the body to function at its best and is caused by not having enough to eat, or not eating enough food with the right nutrients.
Malnutrition can have a detrimental impact on your body in many ways, which in turn impacts your quality of life. It can lead to a higher risk of infections and poor immunity. Muscles can be weakened and muscle function can decrease, and it may lead to an increase in falls. Malnutrition can result in longer and more frequent hospital admissions, reduced effectiveness of medical treatment and delay your recovery from illness.
Inadequate or poor intake, increased requirements due to illness and/or decreased capacity to absorb nutrients can contribute to malnutrition. There are certain factors that can put individuals at higher risk of malnutrition including:
- Chewing or swallowing problems
- Hospital admission
- Inability to shop, cook or feed yourself
- Social isolation
Malnutrition can be prevented. Monitor your weight and note any unplanned rapid weight loss; if you are concerned, your healthcare professional is the best place to start for an assessment and official diagnosis. Also monitor changes in appetite, food intake and nutritional needs with the support of a healthcare professional. They may recommend you supplement your reduced intake or increased requirements that cannot be met by diet alone with nutrition support solutions e.g. high energy, high protein oral nutritional supplements. If you have recently become unwell, speak to a dietitian regarding any possible changes in nutritional requirements as they can provide you with an individualised assessment and therapy plan.
A malnutrition assessment involves gathering information from an individual to assess if their nutritional status is normal, at-risk of or have a diagnosis of malnutrition. The information collected often includes: weight history/changes in weight, medical history, medications, social history, food intake history, changes in appetite, gastrointestinal symptoms e.g. diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and mobility. Please note a credible malnutrition assessment can only be performed by an appropriately qualified healthcare professional, such as a dietitian.