The following system wise signs and symptoms are evident in cases of marasmus:
- General appearance: Marasmic children may present with hypothermia due to an incompetent immune response or hyperthermia (fever) due to secondary bacterial infections. Patients may appear weak and thirsty due to dehydration of the body tissues.
- Integumentary system: Children with marasmus will present with pallor of skin and mucosae due to progressive anemia. Skin lesions like generalized and diffused purpura may herald an ongoing sepsis.
- Head and neck: Facial edema (myxedema) may ensue due to protein deficiency that causes osmotic gradient in the extracellular spaces. Eyeballs may appear sunken with thirst. Corneal lesions may surface due to vitamin A deficiency . Otitis and rhinitis due to concurrent infections may also be seen in patients.
- Chest and heart: These patient may appear with tachypnea due to complications of pneumonia and heart failure.
- Abdomen: Marasmus will classically present with a distended abdomen due to ascites and hepatosplenomegaly. Bowel sounds will be slower due to electrolyte imbalance. Bleeding per anus may be evident with concomitant gastrointestinal bleeding.
- Renal: Decreased urine output may be observable with complicated renal failure.
- Extremities: Radial pulses may appear weak and extremities may be cold to feel due to shock.
- Neurologic: Patients may be brought in lethargy due to lack of energy and calories from starvation. Patients may appear confused due to the metabolic acidosis at play.
Entire Body System
- Weight Loss
No impairment was found in 12 individuals with recent weight loss who remained at a weight greater than the 85% weight-height ratio. [ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
In contrast, the importance of diarrhea in triggering malnutrition through anorexia and weight loss has been well established. [food4africa.org]
[…] rates of metabolism. marasmus A state of severe malnutrition, due to ↓ ingestion of protein and calories, due to poor diet, feeding habits, parent-child relationship or metabolic defects Clinical FTT, weight loss, emaciation, ↓ skin turgor, skin and [medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
‘Patients with marasmus present with severe weight loss and wasting of both muscle and adipose tissue.’ Origin Mid 17th century: modern Latin, from Greek marasmos ‘withering’, from marainein ‘wither’. Pronunciation [en.oxforddictionaries.com]
Children with marasmus are severely underweight for their age. Children with marasmus have a weight-for-height less than 60% of expected (under 3 SD below the mean). Some serious medical conditions (e.g. malabsorption) can also result in marasmus. [childhealthcare.co.za]
The main symptom of marasmus is being underweight. Children with this condition have lost a lot of muscle mass and subcutaneous fat. Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat just under the skin. Dry skin and brittle hair are also symptoms of marasmus. [healthline.com]
Symptoms of marasmus include chronic and persistent diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue and dizziness. [livestrong.com]
Symptoms Large belly sticking out, diarrhea, change in skin pigment, decreased muscle mass, diarrhea, failure to gain weight and grow, fatigue, hair changes, etc. [differencebetween.info]
The symptoms of undernutrition include: fatigue difficulty staying warm a lower body temperature diarrhea reduced appetite a lack of emotion irritability weakness slower breathing numbness or tingling of the hands and feet dry skin hair loss bruises Marasmus [healthline.com]
- Developmental Disabilities
In malnourished children with developmental disabilities, a systematic approach that was applied in a specialized feeding disorder clinic has been described.  Initially, specific deficits were identified. [emedicine.medscape.com]
Other symptoms of marasmus include unusual body temperature (hypothermia, pyrexia); anemia; dehydration (as characterized with consistent thirst and shrunken eyes); hypovolemic shock (weak radial pulse; cold extremities; decreased consciousness); tachypnea [en.wikipedia.org]
Other symptoms of marasmus include unusual body temperature (hypothermia, pyrexia), anemia, dehydration (as characterized with consistent thirst and shrunken eyes), hypovolemic shock (weak radial pulse, cold extremities, decreased consciousness), tachypnea [ipfs.io]
[…] immune system, which usually fights infection, to save energy Other symptoms of marasmus include: Anemia (not having enough red blood cells in the blood) Dehydration, not having enough water in the body Shock caused by dehydration (hypovolemic shock) Tachypnea [kids.kiddle.co]
[…] metallic bowel sounds; large or small liver; blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency); dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura, and ear, nose, and throat symptoms (otitis, rhinitis [en.wikipedia.org]
[…] metallic bowel sounds, large or small liver, blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency), dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura, and ear, nose, and throat symptoms (otitis, rhinitis [ipfs.io]
- Failure to Thrive
Marasmus results from a lack of adequate calories and proteins and is seen in children with failure to thrive and in individuals in a state of starvation. [medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com]
Symptoms Of Marasmus Include: Chronic diarrhea Abdominal distention Persistent dizziness Dry skin Failure to thrive Severe lethargy. [epainassist.com]
Failure to thrive is the earliest manifestation, associated with irritability of apathy. Chronic diarrhea is the most frequent symptom and infants generally present with feeding difficulties. [food4africa.org]
- Persistent Vomiting
vomiting Complications of marasmus Lack of proper growth in children Permanent vision loss Organ failure Severe weakness Joint deformities Diagnosis of marasmus Lab values are taken to construct an appropriate treatment plan. [lecturio.com]
Haug Browse recently published Learning/CME Learning/CME View all learning/CME CME Partial Oral versus Intravenous Antibiotic Treatment of Endocarditis Case 4-2019: An 18-Year-Old Man with Abdominal Pain and Hematochezia Bridging the Gap Challenge Yourself [nejm.org]
Liver, Gall & Pancreas
- Brittle Hair
Other symptoms may include diarrhea; dehydration; behavioral changes; dry, loose skin; and dry, brittle hair. Marasmus can be treated with a high-calorie, protein-rich diet. [britannica.com]
Dry skin and brittle hair are also symptoms of marasmus. Marasmus can also make children short-tempered and irritable. [en.wikipedia.org]
Dry skin and brittle hair are also symptoms of marasmus. [healthline.com]
[…] abdominal manifestations (distension, decreased or metallic bowel sounds; large or small liver; blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency); dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura [en.wikipedia.org]
[…] abdominal manifestations (distension, decreased or metallic bowel sounds, large or small liver, blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency), dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura [ipfs.io]
- Sparse Hair
Other symptoms include loss of appetite, diarrhea, skin that is dry and baggy, sparse hair that is dull brown or reddish yellow, mental retardation, behavioral retardation, low body temperature (hypothermia), and slow pulse and breathing rates. [healthofchildren.com]
Body weight is below 60% of that expected for age; the infant looks ‘old’, has thin sparse hair, is pallid and apathetic, lacks skin fat, and has subnormal temperature. [encyclopedia.com]
The diagnosis of marasmus as a malnutrition state will only require a comprehensive clinical evaluation of patients. The significant changes in the body composition during this protein energy malnutrition state can render laboratory tests to be unreliable at times. Laboratory test may be most useful in confirming clinical condition that may coexist with marasmus. The following laboratory tests are useful in the work of marasmus:
- Blood glucose monitoring: This demonstrates hypoglycemic states in patients.
- Peripheral blood smear (PBS): This could demonstrate parasites in the blood.
- Hemoglobin test: Confirms the occurrence of severe anemia in marasmus.
- Urinalysis and culture: Microscopy of urine will reveal many leukocytes with urinary infection and culture of urine may be done.
- Stool examination: This could reveal intestinal parasites and blood in the feces.
- Albumin tests: Albumin levels below 35 grams per liter suggests a severe impairment in protein production.
- Electrolytes determination: Hyponatremia is usual finding in the late stages of marasmus.
- Small Liver
liver; blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency); dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura, and ear, nose, and throat symptoms (otitis, rhinitis). [en.wikipedia.org]
liver, blood or mucus in the stools), ocular manifestations (corneal lesions associated with vitamin A deficiency), dermal manifestations (evidence of infection, purpura, and ear, nose, and throat symptoms (otitis, rhinitis). [ipfs.io]
The medical care of marasmic cases is conveniently divided into the initial intensive phase, consolidation stage (rehabilitation), and preparing for outpatient follow-up management. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends routine antibiotic coverage in all cases of marasmus as a preventive step . This is further supported by cohort studies that suggests that antibiotic prophylaxis in uncomplicated malnutrition has been proven to hasten recovery and reduce mortality among Malawian children . The WHO provides this guidelines in the treatment of marasmus in children:
- Hypoglycemia monitoring and control
- Treatment and prevention of progressive hypothermia
- Prompt correction of dehydration
- Early detection and correction of electrolyte imbalance
- Active control of infections
- Screening and stabilization of micronutrient deficiencies
- Feeding for initial stabilization
- Nutritional support to support normal growth
- Psychological support, care and stimulation 
- Careful follow-up of cases upon discharge 
The patient’s outlook is largely dependent on the cause of the malnutrition. Acute and less severe malnutrition is easily reversed in a hospital setting. However, malnutrition caused by an ongoing medical illness may need correction of the primary pathology before the malnutrition states are reversed. Concomitant illnesses like bacterial infection and renal failure may cause the patients to succumb rather than the malnutrition state per se.
The protein energy malnutrition in marasmus, if left untreated may complicate to either of these medical conditions:
Marasmus is a serious form of malnutrition that affects more than 50 million children below 5 years of age worldwide. Children suffering from these form of malnutrition may have a very high mortality rate when afflicted by intercurrent illnesses .
Marasmus has a higher prevalence rate in low income and developing countries. Although studies have revealed that children in developed nations may have an occurrence of such protein energy malnutrition (PEM), it is also observed especially in hospitalized patients with malignancy, cystic fibrosis, neurologic diseases, genetic diseases and end stage renal diseases . Marasmus directly affects mortality rate and morbidity rate in patients with prolonged disease . It may also hamper linear growth and neurologic development.
In the United States and in other developed countries, marasmus rarely occurs as a chronic malnutrition condition. However, acute protein energy malnutrition may still occur in hospitalized patients in lower incidence rates .
Internationally, 80% of these malnourished children reside in Asia, 15% in Africa and only 5% in Latin America . An estimated 5 million patients each year die of malnutrition.
The pathophysiology of marasmus is mainly weighted on the metabolic imbalance in the body system brought about by decreased energy intake, progressive loss of caloric intake, and increased expenditure of imbibed energy.
Chronic cases present with systemic adaptations like decrease in physical activity, decreases in basal energy metabolism, lethargy, growth stunting, and progressive weight loss. The long term effects of marasmus to the child’s body system is expressed physically in terms of change body composition, metabolic changes, and anatomical changes.
All forms of malnutrition are prevented with proper eating and a balanced diet. Prophylactic antibiotics in early uncomplicated cases of marasmus lower mortality and increases recovery rates.
Marasmus is a clinical condition characterized by severe wasting of fats, muscles, and other tissues. Marasmus is a severe form of malnutrition where the body does not get enough protein and energy (calories) from food sources.
The spectrum of marasmus ranges from a singular vitamin deficiency to complete starvation. Marasmus is considered one of the most serious form of protein energy malnutrition in the world.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that 49% of all children death less than 5 years of age is due to protein energy malnutrition like marasmus.
Comprehensive history and clinical evaluation, and ancillary laboratory tests are done to diagnose marasmus.
Treatment and follow-up
Prompt nutritional support and correction of metabolic imbalances. Patients should be carefully followed up after they are discharged.
- Pelletier DL, Frongillo EA Jr, Schroeder DG, Habicht JP. The effects of malnutrition on child mortality in developing countries. Bull World Health Org. 1995; 73 (4):443-8.
- Joosten KF, Hulst JM. Prevalence of malnutrition in pediatric hospital patients. Curr Opin Pediatr. Oct 2008; 20(5):590-6.
- Oztürk Y, Buyukgebiz B, Arslan N, Ellidokuz H. Effects of hospital stay on nutritional anthropometric data in Turkish children. J Trop Pediatr. Jun 2003; 49(3):189-90.
- Hendricks KM, Duggan C, Gallagher L, et al. Malnutrition in hospitalized pediatric patients. Current prevalence. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Oct 1995; 149(10):1118-22.
- Fisberg M, Nobrega FJ. Disturbios da nutricao. Revinter. 1998; 140-4.
- Emery PW. Metabolic changes in malnutrition. Eye. October 2005; 19 (10):1029-32.
- Alcoba G, Kerac M, Breysse S, et al. Do children with uncomplicated severe acute malnutrition need antibiotics? A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2013; 8(1):e53184.
- Trehan I, Goldbach HS, LaGrone LN, et al. Antibiotics as part of the management of severe acute malnutrition. N Engl J Med. Jan 31 2013; 368(5):425-35.
- Waber DP, Bryce CP, Fitzmaurice GM, et al. Neuropsychological Outcomes at Midlife Following Moderate to Severe Malnutrition in Infancy. Neuropsychology. Mar 17 2014;
- World Health Organization. WHO Global Database on Child Growth and Malnutrition. Geneva: WHO. 1996.