Can hospitalisation leave you malnourished? What you need to know.

Can hospitalisation leave you malnourished? What you need to know

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Did you know 70% of people leave hospital more malnourished than when they went in?

Did you know in the hospital setting, malnutrition is estimated to affect around 40% of all admissions1? When left untreated nearly 70% of these patients will experience a further decline in their nutritional status during hospitalisaton2.

In Australia, malnutrition is a serious health problem that increases the length of hospital stay and the likelihood of unplanned readmissions3. These cold statistics are being increasingly supported by anecdotal evidence; today, it’s not uncommon to hear a story of a person in hospital who went in for one health condition, only to develop malnutrition.

That’s because conditions like malnutrition often fly under the radar as a secondary health consideration, while the focus of patients and healthcare professionals remain on the primary health condition requiring hospitalisation.

As a hospital patient, you or a loved one may be malnourished on admission or develop malnutrition while in hospital4. The impact of this reality has many implications including prolonging your hospital stay, which further impacts you in terms of the pain and discomfort you experience, as well as the impact on your loved ones5.

The best way to prevent malnutrition is to spot the signs early on. So, what can YOU do if you believe you’re displaying the signs of malnutrition, while in hospital or once you’ve gone home? It is important to speak to your healthcare professional straight away about your concerns, so they can screen you for malnutrition.

Now here are our top 5 tips to ensuring malnutrition doesn’t become part of your hospital stay, so you can focus on recovering well and getting home, back to the life you love with the people you love.

Tip 1: Know the signs of malnutrition
When you are in hospital being treated for another condition, it is understandable that treatment for this is your focus, and that of your  healthcare professional, as the primary health concern and reason for your hospital admission.

However, you can also take responsibility for ensuring you are aware of your body and any changes you notice, however small, that may indicate you are at risk of malnutrition. Common malnutrition symptoms to look out for include, unplanned weight loss; loss of appetite, with lack of interest in food or drink; the inability to focus or concentrate; feeling tired all the time, even when sedentary; a general feeling of being weaker than usual; and getting sick often and taking a long time to recover. If you think you are at risk of malnutrition right now, take our quiz to find out.

Tip 2: Be aware of health conditions at greater risk of malnutrition in hospital
Anyone can become malnourished, but it’s more common in people who have long-term health conditions that affect appetite, weight and/or how well nutrients are absorbed by the gut. Those most at risk of malnutrition in Australia are the elderly, those who have eating disorders, people with gut health conditions such as Crohn’s disease and people with medical conditions such as cancer, HIV or kidney failure, that mean they need more nutrition6.

People with certain health conditions for which hospitalisation may be required, are more susceptible to malnutrition. Malnutrition can develop through a deficiency in dietary intake, from complications associated with illnesses causing poor absorption, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis5.

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with cancer and need to be in hospital for a length of time because of an operation and/or treatment, cancer may increase the body’s nutritional requirements depending on the type and/or its location in your body. Cancer may also impact your ability to eat and drink what you normally would, due to your symptoms, if you have any, which can increase the risk of malnutrition.

Tip 3: Speak up if you think you’re at risk
One of the important ways you can help break the silence around malnutrition is to speak up. You can choose to be an empowered patient, or advocate for someone you love who is in hospital, when it comes to malnutrition and its prevention. This is a proactive way to ensure you’re doing all you can to get well again and avoid unnecessary complications that may delay your return home.

It has been proven that proactive nutrition interventions demonstrate improved health outcomes for hospital patients3. Why not let the conversation start with you – the one who knows your body, and that of your loved one, better than anyone else! The cost of staying silent is far greater to your health than being vocal about it.

Tip 4: Get assessed and professionally diagnosed
If you think that you or someone you know could be at risk of malnutrition in hospital, when considering the common symptoms, take our malnutrition quiz. If your answers indicate you’re at risk of malnutrition, don’t hesitate to ask your healthcare professional who can conduct a thorough malnutrition assessment. This assessment can take place when you are still in hospital, or when discharged. While malnutrition risk screening tools cannot diagnose malnutrition7, they can indicate those who are likely to be at risk of malnutrition and those who need support from an appropriate healthcare professional such as a dietitian.

Tip 5: Ask about the best treatment options
If you are at risk of malnutrition, or actually malnourished, your healthcare professional will advise on the best treatment to supplement your food and drink provided to you in hospital. Oral nutritional supplements can help you meet your daily nutritional needs when your usual diet is not enough and are available in a range of flavours and formats including milkshakes, juice style, and dessert formats.

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  1. Guenter P, et al. Addressing Disease-Related Malnutrition in Hospitalized Patients: A Call for a National Goal. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2015; 41(10): 469-473.
  2. Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (AU). Activity Based Funding Admitted Patient Care 2015–16, acute admitted episodes, excluding same day.
  3. Queensland Government, Malnutrition FEEDS Framework: Malnutrition – Framework for Effective and Efficient Dietetic Service
  4. Barker LA, Gout BS, Crowe TC. Hospital malnutrition: prevalence, identification and impact on patients and the healthcare system. International journal of environmental research and public health. 2011;8(2):514–27. Epub 2011/05/11.
  5. Australian Commission on Safety & Quality in Healthcare, Hospital-Acquired Complication: Malnutrition: Malnutrition
  6. Health Direct Australia: Malnutrition
  7. Tasmanian Government Malnutrition Background: Malnutrition Background
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