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Symptoms - Malnutrition

The main symptom of malnutrition is involuntary weight loss. This is sometimes hard to identify.

Weight loss

Most people who are malnourished will lose weight. But it is possible to be a healthy weight or overweight and still be malnourished.

You could be malnourished if:

  • you unwillingly lose 5 to 10% body weight in 3 to 6 months
  • your body mass index (BMI) is under 18.5 - but if you have a BMI under 20, you could also be at risk
  • clothes, belts and jewellery become looser over time

Use the BMI calculator to work out your BMI -

See your GP if you've lost a lot of weight over the last few months, without meaning to.

If you are concerned about a friend or family member that has lost lots of weight, talk to them about your concerns and ask them to get help.

Other symptoms

Other signs of malnutrition include:

  • less appetite
  • lack of interest in food and drinks
  • feeling tired all the time
  • feeling weaker
  • getting ill often and taking a long time to recover
  • wounds taking a long time to heal
  • poor concentration
  • feeling cold most of the time
  • low mood or depression

See your GP if you have these symptoms. If you notice these problems in someone else, try to encourage them to get help.

Symptoms in children

Symptoms of malnutrition in a child can include:

  • not growing or putting on weight as expected (faltering growth)
  • changes in behaviour, such as being irritable, slow or anxious
  • low energy levels and tiring more easily than other children


Contact your GP if you're concerned about your child's health or development.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 March 2021
Next review due: 24 March 2024