Emaciation is a severe form of malnutrition in which most of the subcutaneous fat and muscle on a person has wasted away. Emaciated people are extremely thin and their bones are often visible beneath their skin, giving them a skeletal appearance. Although emaciation may be caused by a variety of medical conditions, in the context of eating disorders, it is a result of starvation as occurs in Anorexia Nervosa.

Early Stages of Emaciation

In the early stages of emaciation a person may become irritable and engage in impulsive behavior as their body essentially eats itself, using muscle and fat tissue to maintain caloric requirements to stay alive. As the condition progresses, exhaustion, lethargy, depression and apathy set in. People who are emaciated are generally very passive in nature because they lack vital energy. Solving problems and reasoning becomes more difficult as mental function decreases.

Symptoms of Emaciation

In addition, people who are emaciated not only lack essential nutrients, but tend to become dehydrated as well because both their hunger and thirst are blunted. This can lead to organ damage and result in a variety of variety of negative outcomes. Dry skin, thin skin, rashes, diarrhea, and muscle atrophy are some of the more mild symptoms. Anemia, pellagra, scurvy, edema, pain, heart failure, pleurisy, lymph system dysfunction, and kidney failure may also result. Metabolic and electrolyte disturbances are also possible such as hyponatremia (low blood sodium) and hypokalemia (low blood potassium). Such electrolyte imabalances and heart failure can be life-threatening.

Recovery from Emaciation

Recovery from emaciation is possible but requires a very gradual introduction of nutrients and calories and may also involve psychological intervention and treatment. Generally for people who have been deprived of food for a long period of time, thin liquids and salty broth are first introduced. Over time more substantial liquids like milk are given. Then emaciated individual will be given up to eight small meals consisting of protein and nutrient rich foods daily two hours apart and much time will be spent sleeping, resting, and relaxing in order to increase body mass.

Eating Disorder Self Test. Take the EAT-26 self test to see if you might have eating disorder symptoms that might require professional evaluation. All answers are confidential.

Find a Treatment Facility Near You

Click on a state below to find eating disorder treatment options that could be right for you.

The information provided on EatingDisorders.com is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her health professional. This information is solely for informational and educational purposes and we encourage all visitors to see a licensed physician if they believe that they have an eating disorder. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Neither the owners or employees of EatingDisorders.com nor the author(s) of site content take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading this site. Always speak with your primary health care provider before engaging in any form of self treatment. Please see our Legal Statement for further information.

Copyright © 2008-2017 EatingDisorders.com.
Company Information

© 2017 EatingDisorders.com. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of EatingDisorders.com's terms of service and privacy policy. The material on this site is for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified health care provider.