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Difference Between Kwashiorkor and Marasmus

Last updated date: 17th Apr 2024
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Explore the Characteristics of Kwashiorkor and Marasmus

In order to understand the difference between Kwashiorkor and Marasmus, one must be aware of diseases caused by deficiency of vitamins and minerals and their effects on the body. Because Kwashiorkor is a nutrient deficiency that is typically found in famine-affected regions and Marasmus is extreme undernutrition, or a lack of all the macronutrients.

What are Deficiency Diseases?

When the body is lacking in essential nutrients or dietary components like vitamins and minerals, a condition known as deficiency disease can arise. A balanced diet is essential for good overall health. Any dietary imbalance might cause a person to consume too much or too little of a certain nutrient. A deficiency sickness can result from not getting enough of a certain vitamin. A condition known as a deficiency disease can be brought on by a vitamin or mineral shortage in particular.

Why are Vitamins and Minerals Important?

The body requires micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, for many routine functions. These micronutrients must, however, be taken from the food we eat because our bodies are unable to produce them. Chemicals known as vitamins can be classified as either fat-soluble or water-soluble. Minerals are inorganic substances found in soil and water that plants and animals may absorb and ingest. Apart from calcium, sodium, and potassium, there are a number of additional minerals, including trace minerals (such as copper, iodine, and zinc), which are required in very small amounts.

What are the Effects of Nutrient Deficiency?

Your body lacks the energy it needs to maintain itself when you are protein-energy undernourished (macronutrient deficient). In order to make up for this, it starts to disintegrate its own tissues and stop functioning. The body's fat reserves are utilized first, followed by its muscle, skin, hair, and nails. Weak and thin individuals frequently exhibit protein-energy undernutrition. It's possible for kids to develop and grow too slowly if they do not receive vital nutrients.

What is Kwashiorkor and Marasmus?

Kwashiorkor: Kwashiorkor is a nutrient deficiency that is typically found in famine-affected regions. Due to its connection to edema (fluid retention), it is also known as "edematous malnutrition". It is an instance of malnutrition brought on by a low-protein diet. Except for their ankles, feet, and belly, which expand with fluid, people with kwashiorkor sometimes have extremely thin bodies throughout.

What Causes Kwashiorkor?

Protein deficiencies in the diet lead to kwashiorkor. Every cell in your body is formed of protein. Your body needs protein from your diet to replace and repair damaged cells. In a healthy human body, there is constant cell regeneration. Protein is also essential for growth during pregnancy and in adolescence. Kwashiorkor may develop as a result of the body beginning to shut down its normal functions, including growth, due to a lack of protein.

Symptoms of Kwashiorkor

Kwashiorkor symptoms include:

  • Skin and hair color alteration (to a rusty shade) & texture 

  • Exhaustion

  • Diarrhea 

  • Muscle mass loss

  • Inability to acquire weight or grow

  • Edema (swelling) in the ankles, feet, and abdomen can harm the immune system, leading to more frequent and dangerous infections.

  • Irritability

  • Shock, 

  • A rash or multiple rashes

Marasmus: Marasmus is extreme undernutrition, or a lack of all the macronutrients, such as carbs, protein, and lipids, that the body needs to operate. Marasmus makes fat and muscle atrophy under the skin apparent, giving bodies a pale look. In youngsters, it results in stunted development.

What are the Causes of Marasmus?

Marasmus is mostly brought on by nutrient deficiency. It affects kids who don't get enough protein, calories, carbs, and other crucial nutrients. This is typically brought on by hunger and poverty. This disease is more frequent in underdeveloped countries where the resources are limited and children do not receive enough nutrients through food. 

Symptoms of Marasmus

Some common signs that indicate the onset of Marasmus include-

  • Muscle and fat loss are clearly visible.

  • Visible skeleton.

  • The head seems enormous compared to the body.

  • The face could look senile and aged.

  • Skin that is dry and hangs (skin atrophy).

  • Hair loss or brittle, dry hair.

  • Infants with recessed fontanelles.

  • Weakness, apathy, and lethargy.

  • A 40%+ reduction in body weight.

  • Low BMI(Basal Metabolic rate).

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus Difference 







Protein deficiency is the major cause. 

All macro and micronutrients including vitamins, minerals, and calories may be deficient. 



Accumulation of water results in edema. 

No edema is observed. 



Children between 6 months to 3 years of age are at high risk. 

Children between 6 months to 1 year of age are frequently affected. 


Fat content

Subcutaneous fat is present. 

Complete loss of fat due to the limited food supply. 



Less weight loss is observed because calorie intake is normal. 

Severe weight loss resulting from lack of macronutrients. 



Skin appears shiny and flaky due to hyperpigmentation. 

Skin is dry and wrinkled. 



A sufficient protein supply is needed to reverse symptoms. 

A balanced diet including proteins, carbs, and fats is required. 


Kwashiorkor is a severe lack of protein in children, whereas marasmus is a severe lack of nutrients and inadequate calorie intake. This is the main distinction between the two. Kwashiorkor and Marasmus, are the most prevalent of these deficiencies and frequently affect babies and kids between the ages of 1 and 5. They are the cause of both illness and high death rates among children under the age of five.

FAQs on Difference Between Kwashiorkor and Marasmus

1. What is the treatment for nutritional disorders like Kwashiorkor and Marasmus?

Nutritional supplements are used to treat undernutrition. This could encompass refeeding with a specialized, high-calorie nutritional blend developed to replace what your body has lost or supplementing with certain vitamins. Refeeding may be necessary for many weeks to treat severe malnutrition. Your body adapts to undernutrition in many different ways. Refeeding syndrome problems, which can be significant and even life-threatening, are best avoided and managed by starting refeeding while being closely monitored by a medical professional.

2. What are the Risk factors for developing Kwashiorkor and Marasmus?

Kwashiorkor and Marasmus are uncommon in developed nations. They are primarily encountered in underdeveloped nations where food shortages and poverty rates are high. Malnutrition is also facilitated by unsanitary circumstances and a high frequency of infectious illnesses. Although these disorders may affect anybody, they are most prevalent in young children, especially between the ages of 3 and 5. At this age, many kids have just switched from a diet heavy in carbs but deficient in protein and other nutrients.

3. Explain Kwashiorkor and Marasmus.

If kwashiorkor causes the body to experience negative consequences like intellectual impairment and small height, it cannot be reversed. More children than adults are impacted by kwashiorkor. It begins when the mother's milk is withheld from the newborns, and they begin eating low-protein foods.

Marasmus is an extreme form of malnutrition that results from a lack of calories and proteins. The body's muscles and tissues are affected by persistent infections. Complete famine may result from this nutritional shortage as well as a lack of certain vitamins.