Each week, Liz will be posting about a different topic related to nutrition and health. This week, she tackles refeeding syndrome – something that was on her mind after hearing a national news story.
Last week a big news story broke national headlines about parents, David and Louise Turpin, psychologically abusing their 13 children. They were only rescued after one of the children escaped to get help after being cuffed inside. This story broke my heart. Several news reporters mentioned that the children were being treated for severe malnutrition.
Malnutrition is incredibly serious. It is not a simple fix… it’s not just “feed them and everything will be okay.” Malnutrition is primarily a result of prolonged starvation – in this case due to abuse and neglect – and causes biochemical imbalances in the body. These imbalances can create dangers when nutrition is reintroduced.
Refeeding syndrome is a condition that can occur when nutrition is initiated in a malnourished patient. Nutrition is either provided via PO (food by mouth), enteral nutrition (tube feeds), or parenteral nutrition (nutrition directly into the bloodstream). In a clinical setting, a dietitian will monitor a patient’s electrolytes, because the most common signs of refeeding are hypophosphatemia (low phosphorous in the blood), hypomagnesium (low magnesium), and hypokalemia (low potassium). Other signs of refeeding are fluid shifts, blood sugar fluctuations, vitamin deficiencies, irregular heartbeat, etc. It is important for dietitians and medical teams to work together to address refeeding immediately as it can lead to neurological and respiratory issues as well as death from cardiac failure. (Heather’s note: When I started using my feeding tube, I had to start with it running at a very slow rate, and then ramp it up over the next few days/weeks, to make sure that my body could handle the added nutrition and I didn’t get refeeding syndrome. Even though I wasn’t technically “malnourished,” it was still a concern.)
Dietitians play a crucial role in the medical field. There is a lot more that goes into preventing or addressing complications that arise from refeeding syndrome. I haven’t gone into too much detail, because this topic is very complex, and can vary a lot from person to person.
My goal today was just to expose you to how dangerous malnutrition is. Refeeding syndrome is just one complication that can result from malnutrition; there are many others. My thoughts and prayers are with the 13 Turpin children who have a long journey to recovery.