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 are slowly increased by adding carbohydrates, sugars, and fat to the diet. Next, protein is gradually added. People who have malnutrition may have difficulty digesting the lactose in dairy products, so the enzyme lactase may be added. Vitamin and mineral supplements may also be used.

Common treatments for kwashiorkor

Common treatments for kwashiorkor include:

  • Antibiotics to treat infections
  • Gradual increases in dietary calories from carbohydrates, sugars and fats
  • Gradual increases in dietary protein
  • Intravenous fluids to correct fluid and electrolyte imbalances
  • Lactase to assist in digestion of dairy products
  • Vitamin and mineral supplements to treat deficiencies

What are the potential complications of kwashiorkor?

In some people, especially infants and children, complications of untreated or poorly controlled kwashiorkor can be serious, even life threatening in some cases. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of kwashiorkor include:

  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Coma
  • Frequent infections
  • Intellectual disability
  • Physical disability
  • Poor wound healing
  • Shock
  • Short stature
  • Skin pigmentation changes
  • Steatohepatitis (fatty liver)


  1. Kwashiorkor. PubMed Health, a service of the NLM from the NIH.
  2. Malnutrition. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  3. Bhutta ZA, Ahmed T, Black RE, et al. What works? Interventions for maternal and child undernutrition and survival. Lancet 2008; 371:417.

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 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.

... Read more about kwashiorkorsymptoms


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

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