Common Nutritional Disturbances

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  • 0:05 Nutritional Disturbances
  • 1:10 Vomiting
  • 1:43 Heartburn
  • 2:50 Obesity
  • 3:50 Anorexia nervosa
  • 4:20 Malnutrition
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lawson

Sarah has taught nursing courses and has a master's degree in nursing education.

There are many situations that can affect a person's nutrition. Learn more about common nutritional disturbances and their effects on the body and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Nutritional Disturbances

In many cases, maintaining a healthy diet with optimal nutrition is much easier said than done. There are many reasons why nutritional disturbances occur. Having an illness, such as the flu, can cause vomiting and easily create a nutritional deficit. Heartburn can cause pain when certain foods are eaten and cause a person to avoid these foods or eating all together in some cases. Some people simply do not have access to the food they need and are malnourished. Any of these situations, and many others, can create a nutritional disturbance.

So, what is a nutritional disturbance exactly? A nutritional disturbance is any situation that causes a nutritional imbalance or deficit. A nutritional deficit is an inadequate supply of essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, in the diet, resulting in malnutrition or disease. This can happen because a person isn't eating properly or because their body isn't able to absorb nutrients normally. In this lesson, you'll learn about different common nutritional disturbances and how they can affect a person's nutritional status.


Vomiting is the discharge of stomach contents via the mouth. In many cases, vomiting is caused by gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, often due to the stomach flu, but there are other causes of vomiting, such as pregnancy or poisoning. Vomiting is usually self-limiting and not serious. However, in more serious cases, it can lead to severe dehydration and require treatment with intravenous fluids and anti-nausea medication.


Heartburn, or acid reflux, occurs when contents of the stomach reflux, or leak, back into the esophagus. The contents of the stomach are acidic, and cause a burning sensation and pain when it refluxes into the esophagus. Not only does this cause pain for the person, but over time this can cause erosion and even cancer to the esophagus. This is because the cells in the stomach are designed to handle the high acidity level of stomach contents, but the cells of the esophagus are not.

Heartburn is often treated with proton-pump inhibitors, which are medications used to lower the amount of stomach acid that is produced. Long-term use of proton-pump inhibitors is known to cause nutritional deficits of vitamin B12, calcium, iron, magnesium, folic acid, and zinc. The deficits of these nutrients can be detrimental on the body and cause conditions such as osteoporosis, which causes weak bones, or anemia, which is low levels of iron.


Obesity is a condition of being highly overweight. This is a worldwide issue and is projected to surpass tobacco use as the most modifiable risk factor in public health and disease. Besides contributing to many diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, obesity is also a nutritional disturbance.

Despite typically having a high dietary caloric intake, obese people tend to have a very high rate of nutritional deficits. This is often due to a diet of high calorie, nutrient-poor foods. Obese individuals are often deficient in the following nutrients: vitamins C and D, chromium, and thiamine. In addition to these deficiencies, people with type 2 diabetes are also often deficient in biotin. Deficiencies in these nutrients are known to cause insulin resistance, increase the risk of complications from diabetes, or cause other serious health conditions or diseases.

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a psychiatric disorder characterized by abnormal eating behavior, severe self-induced weight loss, and psychiatric comorbidities. People with anorexia severely limit their dietary intake, which makes it a nutritional disturbance and leads to nutritional deficits. Anorexia is a life-threatening condition that can result in death from starvation, heart failure, electrolyte imbalance, or suicide.

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