Continuing Education Activity
Kwashiorkor is a disease marked by severe protein malnutrition and bilateral extremity swelling. It usually affects infants and children, most often around the age of weaning through age 5. The disease is seen in very severe cases of starvation and poverty-stricken regions worldwide. In the 1950s, it was recognized as a public health crisis by the World Health Organization. However, there was a delay in its recognition, because most cases of childhood death were reported as being from diseases of the digestive system or infectious etiology. Since then, various relief efforts were aimed at eradicating it. As scientists continued to investigate the natural history of the disease in children, they discovered something very striking. Children who were dying from "digestive system diseases" and presenting with diarrhea, cough, coryza, and shortness of breath also were having symptoms of kwashiorkor during this time (pitting edema, anorexia, skin changes, etc.). This finding led to the medical conundrum of whether kwashiorkor was the primary or the secondary cause of death. It was concluded to be the secondary cause of death because many cases of the disease would not have developed without the precipitating stress of diarrhea, dehydration and other infectious diseases such as HIV and measles. While kwashiorkor is a disease of edematous malnutrition, marasmus is similar in appearance. Marasmus is known also known as wasting syndrome (malnutrition without edema). Children typically have a depletion of body fat stores, low weight for height, and reduced mid-upper arm circumference. Other features of the disease can include thin, dry skin; a head that appears large relative to the body; an emaciated, weak appearance; bradycardia; hypotension; hypothermia; and thin, shrunken arms, thighs, and buttocks with redundant skin folds. This activity reviews the evaluation and treatment of patients with kwashiokor so that the interprofessional team can successfully manage this condition.
- Review the pathophysiology of kwashiokor.
- Describe the epidemiology of kwashiokor.
- Summarize the physical findings expected in kwashiokor.
- Outline the evaluation and treatment of patients with kwashiokor so that the interprofessional team can successfully manage this condition.