Marasmus is a type of malnutrition which most commonly occurs in infants under one year of age in the developing world. It is caused by an inadequate intake of nutrients, especially protein, or an inability to properly digest nutrients. This condition can be very serious, as if it is allowed to persist, it will pass a point of no return, making it impossible to treat the patient because his or her body is incapable of absorbing nutrition due to physical damage caused by malnutrition.
This type of malnutrition is among a group of conditions known collectively as protein-energy malnutrition or PEM. These conditions include cachexia and kwashiorkor. Together, PEM conditions account for around 50% of the deaths of children under five in the developing world. One of the most obvious symptoms of marasmus is wasting of the body, resulting in prominent bones and a decrease in the amount of body fat. Patients are usually tired, because their bodies try to conserve energy, and irritability and extreme hunger are common.
As the condition progresses, skin folds may develop, along with dry skin, hair loss, and edema or swelling. People with marasmus also typically suffer from dehydration, which can cause a variety of health problems. Treatment involves the reintroduction of balanced nutrition and fluids, along with treatment for underlying infections and other conditions which could complicate the condition. Chronic marasmus can result in long term health problems for the patient which can include heart conditions and an irregular metabolism.
One of the most common causes for maramus is the transition from breastfeeding to feeding infants with formula and other foods. Women may stop breastfeeding for a variety of reasons, ranging from social pressure to an inability to produce milk, and they often have trouble getting balanced nutrition for their children. Acute and chronic infections can also cause the condition, especially in the case of children who are already vulnerable due to borderline malnutrition.
Many aid organizations work to address marasmus in the developing world by creating and maintaining a steady food supply, and identifying cases early so that they can receive treatment. Education of parents, especially mothers, has also been used to try to prevent marasmus. However, poverty, social instability, and political turmoil can be difficult problems for mothers to address, making it impossible for them to provide the care their children need even when they are aware of the consequences of malnutrition.