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Signs and Symptoms

General malnutrition often develops slowly, over months or years. As the body’s store of nutrients is depleted, changes begin to happen at the cellular level, affecting biochemical processes and decreasing the body’s ability to fight infections. Over time, a variety of symptoms may begin to emerge, including:
  • Anaemia
  • Weight loss, decreased muscle mass, and weakness
  • Dry scaly skin
  • Oedema (swelling of limbs, due to build-up of fluid)
  • Hair that has lost its pigment
  • Brittle and malformed (spooned) nails
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Slow wound healing
  • Bone and joint pain
  • Growth retardation (in children)
  • Mental changes such as confusion and irritability
  • Goitre (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • Specific nutrient deficiencies may cause characteristic symptoms. For instance, vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to tingling, numbness, and burning in the hands and feet (due to nerve damage), a lack of vitamin A may cause night blindness and increased sensitivity to light, and a lack of vitamin D can cause bone pain and malformation. The severity of symptoms depends on the intensity and duration of the deficiency. Some changes, such as to bone and nerves, may be irreversible. 

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