Malnutrition will often be noticeable to the doctor’s trained eye before it causes significant abnormalities in laboratory test results. During physical examinations, doctors will evaluate patients overall appearance: their skin and muscle tone, the amount of body fat they have, their height and weight, and their eating habits. In the case of infants and children, doctors will look for normal development and a normal rate of growth.
If there are signs of malnutrition, the doctor may order general laboratory screening tests to evaluate a patient’s blood cells and organ function. Additional individual tests may be ordered to look for specific vitamin and mineral deficiencies. If general malnutrition and/or specific deficiencies are diagnosed, then laboratory testing may be used to monitor the response to therapy. A person who has malnutrition because of a chronic disease may need to have his or her nutritional status monitored on a regular basis.
Hospitalised patients are often assessed for nutritional status prior to or at the time of admission. This may include a history, an interview by a dietician and laboratory tests. If the results of these tests indicate possible nutritional deficits, patients may be provided nutritional support prior to a surgery or procedure and be monitored regularly during recovery.
Laboratory tests may include:
For general screening and monitoring:
- Prealbumin (is decreased in malnutrition, rises and falls rapidly, and can be used to detect short-term response to treatment)
- Iron tests (such as iron, TIBC and ferritin)
- Vitamin and minerals (such as B12 and folate, vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium)
Imaging and radiographic scans may be ordered to help evaluate the health of internal organs and the normal growth and development of muscles and bones. These tests may include: