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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief:

ICD-10 E41-E42
ICD-9 261
DiseasesDB 7826
eMedicine ped/164 
MeSH D011502


Marasmus is a form of severe protein-energy malnutrition characterised by energy deficiency. Some other PEMs are kwashiorkor and cachexia (the most common one in the developed world).

A child with marasmus looks emaciated and the body weight may reduce to less than 80% of the normal weight for that height.

Marasmus occurrence increases prior to age 1 whereas Kwashiorkor occurrence increases after 18 months.


Marasmus is caused by failure to take in sufficient calories.


The signs of common characteristics of protein-energy malnutrition: dry skin, loose skin folds hanging over the glutei, axillae, etc. Drastic loss of adipose tissue from normal areas of fat deposits like buttocks and thighs. The afflicted are often fretful, irritable, and voraciously hungry. There may be alternate bands of pigmented and depigmented hair (flag sign), or flaky paint appearance of skin due to peeling.


It is essential to treat not only the symptoms but also the complications of the disorder like infections, dehydration and circulation disorders, which are frequently lethal and lead to high mortality if ignored.

Ultimately marasmus progresses to the point of no return when the body's machinery for protein synthesis, itself made of protein, has been degraded. At this point, attempts to correct the situation by giving food or protein fail to prevent death.


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