Undiagnosed Malnutrition Leads to Slower Healing, Higher Costs

A.S.P.E.N. Identifies Top Warning Signs for Vulnerable Populations

October 1, 2015, Silver Spring, MD – As Malnutrition Awareness Week™ concludes, the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.) is providing guidance on the signs of disease-related malnutrition in particularly vulnerable populations in an effort to improve clinical outcomes and aid in faster healing.

It is estimated that at least one third of patients in developed countries are malnourished upon admission to the hospital, yet the condition continues to be under-diagnosed across the United States. If left untreated, approximately two thirds of those patients will experience a further decline in their nutrition status during their hospitalization. The condition also leads to longer hospital stays and the risk of readmission. In addition to the human cost, there is a significant economic cost – as much as $156.7 billion per year.

“Interdisciplinary nutrition support teams are not in place in every hospital setting,” said Debra BenAvram, A.S.P.E.N. CEO. “It is imperative that all clinicians, as well as family and patient advocates, are familiar with the signs of malnutrition in order to identify it as early as possible.”

Some of the most vulnerable populations susceptible to the negative impacts of disease-related malnutrition include children and the elderly. To assist healthcare providers, school nurses and parents can help identify the condition in children. A.S.P.E.N. recommends looking for signs that go beyond food availability and standard growth statistics. Symptoms include:

  • Not eating enough;
  • Getting full too quickly;
  • Not gaining weight as they should;
  • In the case of infants, only “dream feeding;” and
  • A lot of vomiting.
For adults and the elderly, symptoms of disease-related malnutrition can mirror what people see as the signs of aging:

  • Unplanned weight loss;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Feeling weak or tired;
  • Swelling or fluid accumulation;
  • Ability to eat only in small amounts.
As these become more extreme, however, it is imperative to seek medical attention:

Earlier this week, in an article published in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, A.S.P.E.N. warned of the impact and scope of disease-related malnutrition and called for the establishment of a national goal in the United States.

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The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (A.S.P.E.N.) is dedicated to improving patient care by advancing the science and practice of nutrition support therapy and metabolism. Founded in 1976, A.S.P.E.N. is an interdisciplinary organization whose members are involved in the provision of clinical nutrition therapies, including parenteral and enteral nutrition. With more than 6,000 members from around the world, A.S.P.E.N. is a community of dietitians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physicians, scientists, students, and other health professionals from every facet of nutrition support clinical practice, research, and education. For more information about A.S.P.E.N., please visit http://www.nutritioncare.org.

Juliet Glassroth