What is starvation and what can happen

Starvation is the complete lack of food consumption and this is a serious situation that quickly leads the body to consume its energy stores and nutrients to keep the organs functioning.

If the refusal to eat lasts for many days, there is a great loss of muscle mass and the individual can die within 4 to 7 weeks of total absence of food.

Starvation Symptoms

The complete lack of food causes symptoms that appear gradually and worsen over the days, the main ones being:

  • Reduction of the belly, the main region of the body that stores fat;
  • Cold, dry, pale, thin and inelastic skin;
  • Muscle reduction and aged appearance;
  • Bones protruding due to thinness;
  • Dry, brittle hair that falls easily;

An adult can lose up to half his weight before dying of starvation, while children can get even thinner.

Causes of Starvation

Starvation can be caused by refusal to eat or due to the total lack of food, in addition to health problems such as anorexia nervosa, cancer in the intestine that prevents feeding, other types of cancer in advanced stage, making the patient not eat more, or in cases of stroke or coma.

Starvation occurs even when water is still consumed, but it becomes even more severe when the individual is also unable to maintain good hydration. See how much water to drink each day.

How to treat

The treatment of starvation is done with the gradual resumption of food, because after long periods without food, the intestine atrophies and the body may not tolerate large volumes of nutrients, worsening its state of health.

Thus, one should start feeding small volumes of liquids such as juices, teas with sugar and thin broths. After 2 to 3 days, if the individual is tolerating fluids well, one can switch to a pasty diet, made with soups, purees, lean cooked meats and shaved fruits. As the body returns to functioning better, the diet also evolves until it returns to normal food consumption.

In some cases, it may be necessary to use a nasogastric tube to favor the supply of nutrients or, in more severe cases, parenteral feeding may be offered, which is done through a nutritive serum placed directly in the vein.

Difference Starvation and Malnutrition

While starvation is a complete absence of food consumption, malnutrition occurs when there is still food consumption, but that is insufficient to maintain the body's weight and proper functioning.

In addition, starvation leads to death in a few weeks, while malnutrition does not always cause death, with sequelae such as short stature, weak bones, learning deficit and low immunity being more common. See more about the risks of malnutrition.