The body requires many different vitamins and minerals (nutrients) that are crucial for both body development and preventing disease. Some of these vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) aren’t produced naturally in the body, so you have to get them from your diet.
A nutritional deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t get from food the required amount of a nutrient. Deficiencies can lead to a variety of health problems that can include digestion problems, skin disorders, stunted or defective bone growth, and even dementia.
Nutritional deficiency is a global problem but remains uncommon in developed nations. Much of our understanding of the clinical manifestations of nutritional deficiencies comes from old studies, but recent case reports and series have highlighted several patient populations that may be at risk from acquired deficiencies, including patients with anorexia nervosa, cystic fibrosis, patients receiving long-term tube-feeding and those with perceived or real food allergy.
Reports of nutritional deficiency continue to emerge from developed nations and pediatricians need to have a basic understanding of their clinical manifestations.
The skin is commonly affected and can be the giveaway sign of illness.
What Are The Symptoms Of Nutritional Deficiencies?
The symptoms of a nutritional deficiency depend on which nutrient the body lacks, but there are some general symptoms you might experience. Some of these symptoms can include:
- pallor (pale skin)
- trouble breathing
- unusual food cravings
- hair loss
- heart palpitations
- Feeling faint or fainting
- Tingling and numbness of the joints
- menstrual issues, such as missed periods or very heavy cycles
- poor concentration
You may display all or some of these symptoms.
Over time, some people may adapt to the symptoms, and this can cause the condition to go undiagnosed. It is always advisable to schedule a checkup with your doctor if you experience prolonged periods of fatigue, weakness, or poor concentration, as these symptoms could be a sign of the beginning of a serious deficiency.
How Are Nutritional Deficiencies Diagnosed?
Your doctor will discuss your diet and eating habits with you if they suspect you have a nutritional deficiency, and they’ll ask what symptoms you’re experiencing.
Make sure to mention any periods of constipation or diarrhea, or if blood has been present in your stool.
Nutritional Deficiencies Treatment
The treatment for a nutritional deficiency depends on the type and severity of the deficiency, as well as the likelihood of long-term problems caused by the lack of nutrients.
Before deciding on a treatment plan, it is wise to undergo further testing to see if there’s any other damage. Symptoms usually fade when the correct diet is followed or nutrient is supplemented.
A doctor may advise you on how to change your eating habits in the case of a minor deficiency, or he may refer you to a dietitian if your deficiency is more severe.
The United States’ official dietary guidelines recommend that you get most of your nutrients from food, but in some cases, you may need to take supplements or a multivitamin.
It may also be necessary to take an additional supplement to help your body absorb the supplements, such as taking calcium and vitamin D together.
Talk to your doctor before taking any nutritional supplements.
In very severe cases, such as when a nutritional deficiency doesn’t respond to oral medications or vitamins, it may be necessary to give the nutrient through the veins or muscles. This is usually done in a hospital and can carry the risk of additional side effects.
For example, parenteral iron can cause side effects that include:
- muscle pain
- a backache
- In rare cases, it can cause a severe allergic reaction.
Once you’ve been given the treatment, you may have to do a repeat blood test to confirm that it was successful, and you may need to attend the hospital for repeat appointments until you’re no longer deficient.
Most problems caused by nutritional deficiencies stop once you’re no longer deficient, but in some cases, it may leave a lasting damage.
This is usually the case when the deficiency has been severe and has lasted a long time.
For example, a prolonged thiamine deficiency can be associated with stunted growth or depression, and nutritional deficiencies in children can be serious and may lead to lasting negative health outcomes.