Diarrhea, a disease of fluid and electrolyte imbalance, is an important worldwide cause of morbidity and mortality among infants and children, especially in developing countries. However, it is also very much a nutritional disease. This is primarily because during periods of diarrhea, nutrient intake and absorption are dramatically decreased, which results in under-nutrition even when sufficient food is available. The losses of nutrients affect growth rates, and where diarrhea occurs frequently the child may not grow properly. This is a cyclical pattern in that undernourishment in children makes them more prone to diarrhea. Their immune systems are less robust and the episodes affect them more than well-nourished children. Undernourishment and diarrhea can be a fatal combination that can result in a vicious cycle. This cycle requires intervention, sometimes at a treatment center if the case is severe enough. Therefore, is a matter of not only replacing the fluids and electrolytes but also of managing good feeding practices at all times before, during, and after the illness.
Sixty percent of the 10 million deaths among children younger than 5 years old are associated with malnutrition. Approximately 2 million of the deaths are due to diarrhea. Repeated episodes of diarrhea result in malnutrition, which in turn puts the child at an increased risk of recurrent infections, including diarrhea. To break this cycle, diarrheal episodes should be managed with appropriate fluid and nutritional therapy.
See also: Colon: Disorders; Nutritional Management of Disorders. Lactose Intolerance. Malnutrition: Primary, Causes Epidemiology and Prevention; Secondary, Diagnosis and Management. United Nations Children's Fund. Vitamin A: Biochemistry and Physiological Role. World Health Organization. Zinc: Deficiency in Developing Countries, Intervention Studies.
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