Treatment for malnutrition (undernutrition) depends on the underlying cause and how malnourished a person is.
You may be given advice to follow at home, or be supported at home by a dietitian or other qualified healthcare professional. In severe cases, treatment in hospital may be needed.
The healthcare professional in charge of your care must ask for your consent when starting or stopping nutrition support. If you're unable to give your consent, they must act in your best interest following medical guidelines.
A dietitian will advise you about dietary changes that can help.
They may create a tailored diet plan that ensures you get enough nutrients.
They may also suggest:
- having a healthier, more balanced diet
- eating "fortified" foods that contain extra nutrients
- snacking between meals
- having drinks that contain lots of calories
- getting supermarket deliveries at home
If these measures are not enough, taking extra nutrients in the form of supplements may be recommended. These should only be taken on the advice of a healthcare professional.
You'll have regular appointments to check that any changes to your diet are helping to improve your nutrition. Your diet may need to be adjusted to make it more effective.
If you are unable to eat enough to meet your body's needs – for example because you have problems swallowing (dysphagia) – an alternative way of getting nutrients may be needed.
This can include:
- using a tube that's passed through your nose and down into your stomach (nasogastric tube)
- using a tube that's placed directly into your stomach or gut through the skin on your tummy (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy – PEG – tube)
- using a solution containing nutrients that's fed directly into your blood through a tube in a vein (parenteral nutrition)
These treatments are usually started in hospital, but they can be continued at home if you are well enough.
See treatment for swallowing problems for more information about these feeding methods.
Some people who are malnourished need extra care to help them cope with underlying issues such as limited mobility.
This may include:
- home care visitors who can help you to shop for food or cook if you find this difficult – read more about getting care at home
- occupational therapy – an occupational therapist can identify problems with daily activities and help find solutions
- a "meals on wheels" or meals at home service – this can often be provided by the local authority, although there's usually a charge
- speech and language therapy – a speech therapist can teach you exercises to help with swallowing problems and give advice about dietary changes (such as foods that are easy to swallow)
Find out how to feed someone you care for.
Malnutrition in children is often caused by long-term health conditions, for which hospital treatment is needed. But this is not the case for all children with malnutrition.
Treatment may involve:
- dietary changes, such as eating foods high in energy and nutrients
- support for families to help them manage factors affecting the child's nutritional intake
- treatment for any underlying medical conditions causing malnutrition
- vitamin and mineral supplements
- high-energy and protein nutritional supplements – if the other treatments are not enough on their own
Severely malnourished children need to be fed and rehydrated with great care. They cannot be given a normal diet immediately. They'll usually need special care in hospital.
Once they're well enough, they can gradually begin eating a normal diet and continue this at home.
It's important that treatment is monitored regularly to make sure it's working. Weight and height measurements will be taken, and a child will be referred to specialist services if there's no improvement.