A Better Way to Diagnose Malnutrition

BY Penn State TIMEJuly 10, 2022 PRINT

A new systematic assessment that describes malnutrition in the context of starvation, chronic disease, and/or acute disease or injury will help with diagnosis and treatment, nutritionists say.

Up to 50 percent of patients in hospitals and nursing facilities are estimated to be malnourished and although it is widespread, confusion exists in the clinical community on how to best make a diagnosis. Malnourished patients are frequently not identified as such, and those not affected are sometimes thought to be malnourished.

“Our systematic assessment is a new approach created for health care professionals to enable them to appropriately diagnosis and treat malnutrition in patients,” says Gordon Jensen, professor and head of nutritional sciences at Penn State.

“While it may be obvious that a person suffering from starvation—as a result of an eating disorder or depression, for example—is malnourished, it may be less obvious that a person suffering from a chronic disease, such as diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, or from an acute disease or injury, such as major trauma from an auto accident or a serious blood-borne infection, is malnourished,” Jensen says.

Patients with chronic or acute disease or injury may suffer from malnutrition as a result of their bodies’ natural and sometimes exaggerated inflammatory responses to disease or injury, which can trigger a loss of appetite, abnormal metabolism, and muscle breakdown, Jensen says.

“Inflammation is an important underlying factor that increases risk for malnutrition. Those patients with chronic disease tend to have inflammation that is chronic and of mild to moderate degree, while those with acute disease or injury tend to have inflammation that is acute and of severe degree.”

That is why, in addition to providing health care workers with instructions for determining if a patient is suffering from malnutrition in the context of starvation, chronic disease and/or acute disease, or injury, the assessment also suggests that health care workers evaluate patients’ inflammatory status.

This new approach can help guide practitioners in discerning appropriate nutrition interventions and anticipated outcomes.

The assessment appears in the May issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“The new assessment is part of a national effort to educate and implement the use of a more systematic and thorough approach to diagnosing malnutrition,” says Jensen. “Our hope is that it will help ensure high-quality, cost-effective care for people suffering from malnutrition.”

Researchers from  the University of Tennessee, the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, Mt. Carmel West Hospital, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics contributed to the study, which was supported by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.

This article was originally published by Penn State. Republished via under Creative Commons License 4.0.

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