Kwashiorkor and Marasmus



Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are diseases of severe malnutrition, which are rare in developed countries but sometimes observed in developing countries. Kwashiorkor is a disease caused by protein deficiency, presenting with swelling of the belly (secondary to edema), skin lesions, fatty change of the liver, and anemia. Marasmus describes generalized muscle wasting caused by a deficiency of all nutrients, or a total caloric deficiency. It can be seen in people with poor intake, although cancer-related muscle wasting may also be described as marasmus.

Key Points

  • Kwashiorkor
    • Also known as “edematous malnutrition”
    • Caused by protein deficiency
    • Classically presents in children with:
      • swollen edematous belly
        • low plasma oncotic pressure secondary to decreased albumin
      • fatty liver disease
        • thought to be secondary to decreased apolipoproteins
      • skin lesions (e.g. hyperkeratosis, dyspigmentation)
      • anemia
        • thought to be secondary to reduced globin proteins
  • Maramus
    • From Latin marasmos (wasting away/withering)
    • Caused by total caloric deficiency
    • Symptoms include generalized muscle wasting

Find Kwashiorkor, Marasmus, and other Nutrition topics among Pixorize's visual mnemonics for the USMLE Step 1 and NBME Shelf Exams.