What is emaciation?

A person or animal suffering from wasting has an extremely low body weight. This symptom of a variety of diseases or conditions such as hunger is quite easy to recognize. The human or animal looks severely underweight, with many bones protruding prominently. Depending on its cause, wasting can have other characteristics, and although from the outside these symptoms look severe, inside the body it is more dangerous, since most of the body's systems do not have the necessary nutrition to function well. or normally. The more severe the low body weight, the greater the risk.

Wasting has many causes, and things like involuntary hunger should not be overlooked. In areas where poverty is extreme, few residents are able to get the nutrition they need and they may begin to show signs of emaciation. Appearance is not the only problem, and hunger is life-threatening: it claims the lives of some 16,000 children a day, directly or indirectly. The profound state of malnutrition that accompanies wasting can lead to conditions such as organ shutdown or make people so vulnerable to disease that they are unable to fight off any form of infection.

Certain forms of starvation are potentially easier to prevent because they arise not from lack of access to food, but from eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. In the most severe cases, sufferers of these conditions also become emaciated, with weights that are considered far below normal. A diagnostic criterion as to what precisely constitutes wasting varies. It is often defined as weighing one-half to one-third less than the expected normal body weight.

With eating disorders, the outward appearance can change dramatically, although the person who is ill can rarely see that they are too thin. As fewer calories fuel the body, organ failure can occur, and anorexics are especially vulnerable to developing life-threatening heart conditions. Any kind of extremely low weight can lead to mood swings, a general feeling of low energy, and a complete weakening of the immune system.

In developing countries, diseases such as kwashiorkor can be a complication of being emaciated. This low body weight form has a recognizable appearance with a distended abdomen, while the upper ribs are prominent. The vulnerability to disease is high with this disease, which is usually due not only to improper diet, but to inadequate intake of protein-rich foods.

Additional causes of wasting are varied. Cancer and HIV can cause dramatic weight loss and muscle wasting in a condition called cachexia. This is particularly the case in people who are in the final stages of these diseases. Any disease that cannot synthesize nutrients properly could also be related to or the cause of emaciation. In all cases, this symptom is extremely serious and requires immediate intervention.

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