Marasmus is a form of severe protein-energy malnutrition
Protein-energy malnutrition
Protein-energy malnutrition refers to a form of malnutrition where there is inadequate protein intake.Types include:* Kwashiorkor...

 characterized by energy deficiency.

A child with marasmus looks emaciated
Emaciation occurs when an organism loses substantial amounts of much needed fat and often muscle tissue, making that organism look extremely thin. The cause of emaciation is a lack of nutrients, starvation, or disease....

. Body weight may be reduced to less than 80% of the average weight that corresponds to the height . Marasmus occurrence increases prior to age 1, whereas kwashiorkor
Kwashiorkor is an acute form of childhood protein-energy malnutrition characterized by edema, irritability, anorexia, ulcerating dermatoses, and an enlarged liver with fatty infiltrates. The presence of edema caused by poor nutrition defines kwashiorkor...

 occurrence increases after 18 months. It can be distinguished from kwashiorkor in that kwashiorkor is protein wasting with the presence of edema
Edema or oedema ; both words from the Greek , oídēma "swelling"), formerly known as dropsy or hydropsy, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid beneath the skin or in one or more cavities of the body that produces swelling...


The prognosis is better than it is for kwashiorkor.

The word “marasmus” comes from the Greek μαρασμός marasmos "consumption" from μαραίνειν marainein "to consume, exhaust."

Signs and symptoms

The malnutrition associated with marasmus leads to extensive tissue and muscle wasting, as well as variable edema. Other common characteristics include dry skin, loose skin fold
Skin fold
Skin folds are areas of skin where it folds. Many skin folds are distinct, heritable anatomical features, and may be used for identification of animal species, while others are non-specific and may be produced either by individual development of an organism or by arbitrary application of force to...

s hanging over the buttocks (glutei) and armpit (axillae), etc. There is also drastic loss of adipose tissue
Adipose tissue
In histology, adipose tissue or body fat or fat depot or just fat is loose connective tissue composed of adipocytes. It is technically composed of roughly only 80% fat; fat in its solitary state exists in the liver and muscles. Adipose tissue is derived from lipoblasts...

 (body fat) from normal areas of fat deposits like buttocks
The buttocks are two rounded portions of the anatomy, located on the posterior of the pelvic region of apes and humans, and many other bipeds or quadrupeds, and comprise a layer of fat superimposed on the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius muscles. Physiologically, the buttocks enable weight to...

 and thigh
In humans the thigh is the area between the pelvis and the knee. Anatomically, it is part of the lower limb.The single bone in the thigh is called the femur...

s. The afflicted are often fretful, irritable, and voraciously hungry.

Marasmus is generally known as the gradual wasting away of the body due to severe malnutrition or inadequate absorption of food. Marasmus is a form of severe protein deficiency and is one of the forms of protein-energy malfunction (PEM). It is a severe form of malnutrition caused by inadequate intake of proteins and calories.


Marasmus is caused by a severe deficiency of nearly all nutrients, especially protein and carbohydrates.


It is necessary to treat not only the symptoms but also the complications of the disorder, including infection
An infection is the colonization of a host organism by parasite species. Infecting parasites seek to use the host's resources to reproduce, often resulting in disease...

s, dehydration
In physiology and medicine, dehydration is defined as the excessive loss of body fluid. It is literally the removal of water from an object; however, in physiological terms, it entails a deficiency of fluid within an organism...

, and circulation disorders, which are frequently lethal and lead to high mortality if ignored.

Ultimately, marasmus can progress to the point of no return when the body's machinery for protein synthesis, itself made of protein, has been degraded to the point that it cannot handle any protein. At this point, attempts to correct the disorder by giving food or protein are futile.


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