What are the symptoms of kwashiorkor?

Early symptoms of kwashiorkor include irritability and fatigue. As the condition continues, additional symptoms include slowed growth, weight loss, muscle wasting, generalized swelling, skin changes, enlargement of the liver and abdomen, and weakening of the immune system, leading to frequent infections.

Common symptoms of kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor symptoms may develop slowly over time. Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Enlarged liver
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent infections
  • Generalized swelling
  • Hair and nail changes, including brittle, reddish hair and ridged nails that are thin and soft
  • Irritability
  • Muscle wasting
  • Skin changes, including pigment loss, red or purple patches, peeling, cracking, skin sloughing, and the development of sores
  • Slowed growth leading to short stature
  • Weight loss

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, kwashiorkor can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails
  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, palpitations
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Not producing any urine, or an infant who does not produce the usual amount of wet diapers
  • Profuse sweating
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, shallow breathing, or not breathing

What is kwashiorkor?

Kwashiorkor is a type of malnutrition that is rare in the United States; it is most common in areas of drought and famine. Kwashiorkor is due to inadequate protein in the diet despite an adequate caloric intake. Symptoms may include irritability and fatigue followed by slowed growth, weight loss, muscle wasting, generaliz... Read more about kwashiorkorintroduction


What causes kwashiorkor?

Kwashiorkor is caused by a diet low in protein. It can also arise due to infections, parasites, or other conditions that interfere with protein absorption from the gastrointestinal tract. It is most common in children living in areas hit by drought and famine, but it can be related to dietary changes due to milk allergies in infants, fad diets, poor nutritional education, or a chaotic home life... Read more about kwashiorkorcauses


How is kwashiorkor treated?

Treatment of kwashiorkor depends upon its severity. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances may need to be corrected with intravenous fluids, and infections may require treatment with antibiotics.

Although the goal is to increase protein in the diet, rapid increases in calories and protein can be dangerous. Often, the calories ar... Read more about kwashiorkortreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Food, Nutrition and Diet