Am I Malnourished? Quizzes and Diagnosis Criteria

How Specialists Diagnose Malnutrition

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Malnutrition refers to getting too little, too much, or having an overall imbalance of energy and/or nutrients. You can easily find online quizzes that are aimed at identifying if you are malnourished or not.

However, it’s best to rely on diagnostic tests and criteria from licensed medical professionals for this type of screening. Online quizzes may not take your individual circumstances into account or could miss important signs or symptoms, leaving you at risk for health problems.

This article will discuss clinically recognized tests and criteria, plus how to talk to your doctor about taking them.

Are you malnourished?

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Are You Healthy?

There are many different ways to determine the health of an individual. Healthcare professionals will use information such as your height, weight, food intake, past medical history, and bloodwork to learn more about you and your health status.

A low intake of food, limited food choices, or having a medical condition that stops the body from getting the right balance of nutrients it needs can impact overall health and lead to malnourishment. In some cases, this can become life-threatening.

Review the following checklists and symptoms as a starting place to see if you might be malnourished.

Malnutrition Quiz Checklist 

Answer these questions:

  • Have I skipped any meals in the past week?
  • Do I eat different colored fruits and vegetables each week?
  • Have I lost weight in the past three to six months without trying?
  • Do I drink water to stay hydrated throughout each day?
  • Have I had a decreased appetite or lack of interest in food within the past one to three months?
  • Do I have access to a variety of foods from all the food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and fortified soy alternatives, protein foods)?

Symptoms of Malnourishment 

In adults:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Chronic fatigue or tiredness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Getting sick often or taking a long time to recover from an infection or illness
  • Slow wound healing
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Feeling cold the majority of the time

In children:

  • Stunted growth
  • Decreased energy levels
  • Unusual irritableness or anxiety
  • Delayed behavioral and/or intellectual development

Common Causes of Malnutrition 

Malnutrition can be brought on by various reasons, such as lifestyle choices or medical conditions.

Low Food Intake

Some people are malnourished because they have difficulty eating, their bodies cannot properly absorb nutrients, or they simply do not eat enough.

Loss of appetite and low food intake may be caused by:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Depression
  • HIV
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Kidney failure
  • Heart failure
  • Certain medications
  • Nausea
  • Oral health conditions that make it difficult to eat or swallow, or poorly fitting dentures

Certain Medical Conditions

Sometimes the body is not able to properly absorb all the nutrients it needs, even when eating a healthful diet. This malabsorption can cause nutrient deficiencies and lead to malnutrition. 

Examples of medical conditions that can cause malabsorption include:

Mental Health Conditions

Some people with certain mental health conditions are at a higher risk of developing malnutrition. These include:

Social and Mobility Troubles 

The elderly, especially, have a higher risk of malnutrition due to social or mobility problems. Different factors that can play a role in this include:

  • Being socially isolated or living alone
  • Being unable to get out of the house and to a store to purchase food
  • Not having a grocery store nearby with healthful foods
  • Being physically unable to cook or prepare meals
  • Having little cooking knowledge or skills
  • Not having money to buy food

High Alcohol Intake

When large amounts of alcohol are consumed, intake of nutrient-dense foods often decreases. This can result in the poor intake of needed nutrients, leading to nutrient deficiencies. Additionally, large amounts of alcohol can cause gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and liver disease

These health issues often lead to poor digestion, reduced absorption of nutrients, impaired ability to use nutrients, and/or increased breakdown of those nutrients.

Malnutrition Criteria 

Healthcare professionals use different tools to diagnose malnutrition. Which tool is used will vary depending on specific circumstances such as the patient’s age and the clinical setting in which the patient is seen.

EAT-26

The Eating Attitudes Test (EAT-26) is a self-administered quiz used to identify the presence of “eating disorder risk” based on attitudes, feelings, and behaviors related to eating. The test includes 26 questions that assess general eating behavior, with five additional questions assessing risky behaviors.

The EAT-26 is not designed to make a diagnosis of an eating disorder or take the place of a professional consultation. You can use the EAT-26 to help you figure out if you might benefit from reaching out to a healthcare professional or eating disorder specialist for a possible diagnosis and treatment plan.

DSM-5 

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the standard for classifying and diagnosing mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States. Specific criteria are defined for each mental disorder which must be met in order to make a diagnosis.

Even if all the DSM-5 criteria for a particular disorder are not met, another condition may still be present. This is when the healthcare professional will use their clinical and professional judgment to determine the next steps.

MUST

The Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (MUST) was designed to identify malnourishment or risk of malnutrition in adults, especially older adults. This five-step tool can help healthcare professionals identify and treat malnutrition.

MUST is only used to identify overall malnutrition or the risk of malnutrition in adults. It does not determine specific nutrient deficiencies or imbalances.

NRS-2002

One of the nutritional risk screening tools used most often in hospitals worldwide is the Nutritional Risk Screening 2002 (NRS-2002). This tool is meant to be a generic tool in the hospital setting. It is useful in detecting most of the patients who would benefit from nutritional therapy.

The NRS-2002 is a simple and well-validated tool that first incorporates a pre-screening with four questions. If one of these is answered positively, a second screening follows which includes additional questions regarding nutritional status.

When administered by trained staff, the NRS-2002 has been shown to be very reliable. Its validity has been assessed in hundreds of studies, including randomized clinical controlled trials.

Treatment

It is best to be treated by a healthcare team if you are malnourished or suspect malnutrition. Reaching out to your primary care health professional or a registered dietitian is a good first step in getting the care you need.

Your treatment plan may simply include lifestyle and dietary changes to follow by yourself at home. You may also be supported at home by a dietitian or other qualified healthcare professional. In more severe cases, hospitalization may be required.

Changing the amount or types of foods you eat may help restore nutrient balances. A registered dietitian can help you figure out which dietary changes you may need to make—for example, getting the right balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat, or getting enough of important nutrients like iron, vitamin D, calcium, or potassium.

If you are unable to eat enough to meet your body’s needs—for example because you have problems swallowing (dysphagia)—a feeding tube may be needed to get the nutrients your body needs.

Aside from meeting with your doctor and dietitian, you may also benefit from occupational therapy or speech-language therapy. A meals at home service might be helpful for older people or people with disabilities who are unable to leave home or cook for themselves.

With proper treatment, recovery is possible, although the outlook and time needed for recovery will depend on the cause of the malnutrition.

Summary

Malnourishment can be caused by an unbalanced diet, limited food choices, social or mobility challenges, mental health conditions, or medical conditions affecting eating or the ability to absorb nutrients from food.

Unofficial screening quizzes are available, but malnourishment should be assessed by a healthcare professional. This will allow the underlying causes to be diagnosed and treated appropriately.

A Word From Verywell

While there are several unofficial online quizzes you can take to help identify malnutrition, it’s important to consult with your doctor or a dietitian before self-diagnosing. If you show signs of or suspect malnutrition, seek the help of a doctor for an official diagnosis. 

Effective treatment is available to help you recover from malnutrition. Working together with your healthcare team will help you determine the best course of action.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the signs of malnutrition in adults and children?

    Signs of malnutrition in adults:

    • Unintentional weight loss
    • Chronic fatigue or tiredness
    • Muscle weakness
    • Getting sick often or taking a long time to recover from an infection or illness
    • Slow wound healing
    • Decreased ability to concentrate
    • Feeling cold the majority of the time

    Signs of malnutrition in children:

    • Stunted growth
    • Decreased energy levels
    • Unusual irritableness or anxiety
    • Delayed behavioral and/or intellectual development, with possible learning difficulties
  • Does extreme dieting lead to malnutrition?

    If it goes on for several months, extreme dieting can lead to malnutrition and can be life-threatening. People who go on extreme diets may become fatigued, dehydrated, or ill, and have decreased muscle mass.

    Extreme dieting may indicate a possible eating disorder. Getting evaluated by a healthcare professional will help determine if malnutrition or a disorder exists.

  • How long is recovery for malnourishment?

    Recovery time for malnutrition depends on the severity and cause of malnourishment. Recovery time might be weeks or months. It may require regular monitoring to ensure the treatment plan is effective at restoring any nutritional imbalances.

    Young children, older adults, or people with severe or chronic conditions may need special care and attention to ensure they get the nutrients they need.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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