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Nutrition in Clinical Medicine


Shilpa N Bhupathiraju

, PhD, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital;

Frank Hu

, MD, MPH, PhD, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Reviewed/Revised Feb 2023
Topic Resources

Nutritional deficiencies can often worsen health outcomes (whether a disorder is present or not), and some disorders (eg, malabsorption Overview of Malabsorption Malabsorption is inadequate assimilation of dietary substances due to defects in digestion, absorption, or transport. Malabsorption can affect macronutrients (eg, proteins, carbohydrates, fats)... read more ) can cause nutritional deficiencies. Also, many patients (eg, older patients during acute hospitalization) have unsuspected nutritional deficiencies that require treatment. Many medical centers have multidisciplinary nutrition support teams of physicians, nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists to help the clinician prevent, diagnose, and treat occult nutritional deficiencies.

Overnutrition may contribute to chronic disorders, such as cancer, hypertension Hypertension Hypertension is sustained elevation of resting systolic blood pressure (≥ 130 mm Hg), diastolic blood pressure (≥ 80 mm Hg), or both. Hypertension with no known cause (primary; formerly, essential... read more Hypertension , obesity Obesity Obesity is a chronic, multifactorial, relapsing disorder characterized by excess body weight and defined as a body mass index (BMI) of ≥ 30 kg/m2. Complications include cardiovascular disorders... read more , diabetes mellitus Diabetes Mellitus (DM) Diabetes mellitus is impaired insulin secretion and variable degrees of peripheral insulin resistance leading to hyperglycemia. Early symptoms are related to hyperglycemia and include polydipsia... read more , and coronary artery disease Overview of Coronary Artery Disease Coronary artery disease (CAD) involves impairment of blood flow through the coronary arteries, most commonly by atheromas. Clinical presentations include silent ischemia, angina pectoris, acute... read more Overview of Coronary Artery Disease . Dietary restrictions are necessary in many hereditary metabolic disorders Introduction to Inherited Disorders of Metabolism Most inherited disorders of metabolism (also called inborn errors of metabolism) are caused by mutations in genes that code for enzymes; enzyme deficiency or inactivity leads to Accumulation... read more (eg, galactosemia Galactosemia Galactosemia is a carbohydrate metabolism disorder caused by inherited deficiencies in enzymes that convert galactose to glucose. Symptoms and signs include hepatic and renal dysfunction, cognitive... read more , phenylketonuria Phenylketonuria (PKU) Phenylketonuria is a disorder of amino acid metabolism that causes a clinical syndrome of intellectual disability with cognitive and behavioral abnormalities caused by elevated serum phenylalanine... read more ).

Evaluation of Nutritional Status

Indications for nutritional evaluation include the following:

  • Undesirable body weight or body composition

  • Suspicion of specific deficiencies or toxicities of essential nutrients

  • In infants and children, insufficient growth or development

Nutritional status should be evaluated routinely as part of the clinical examination for

  • Infants and children

  • Older people

  • People taking several drugs

  • People with psychiatric disorders

  • People with systemic disorders that last longer than several days

Evaluating general nutritional status includes history, physical examination, and sometimes tests. If undernutrition is suspected, laboratory tests Testing Undernutrition is a form of malnutrition. (Malnutrition also includes overnutrition.) Undernutrition can result from inadequate ingestion of nutrients, malabsorption, impaired metabolism, loss... read more (eg, albumin levels) and skin tests for delayed hypersensitivity may be done. Body composition analysis (eg, skinfold measurements, bioelectrical impedance analysis) is used to estimate percentage of body fat and to evaluate obesity Diagnosis Obesity is a chronic, multifactorial, relapsing disorder characterized by excess body weight and defined as a body mass index (BMI) of ≥ 30 kg/m2. Complications include cardiovascular disorders... read more .

History includes questions about dietary intake, weight change, and risk factors for nutritional deficiencies and a focused review of systems (see table ). A dietitian can obtain a more detailed dietary history. It usually includes a list of foods eaten within the previous 24 hours and a food questionnaire. A food diary may be used to record all foods eaten. The weighed ad libitum diet, in which the patient weighs and writes down all foods consumed, is the most accurate record.


A complete physical examination, including measurement of height and weight and distribution of body fat, should be done. Body mass index (BMI)—weight(kg)/height(m)2, which adjusts weight for height (see table ), is more accurate than height and weight tables. There are standards for growth and weight gain in infants, children, and adolescents (see Physical Growth of Infants and Children Physical Growth of Infants and Children Physical growth includes attainment of full height and appropriate weight and an increase in size of all organs (except lymphatic tissue, which decreases in size). Growth from birth to adolescence... read more ).


Distribution of body fat is important. Disproportionate truncal obesity (ie, waist/hip ratio > 0.8) is associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disorders, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus more often than fat located elsewhere. Measuring waist circumference in patients with a BMI of < 35 helps determine whether they have truncal obesity and helps predict risk of diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and cardiovascular disorders. Risk is increased if waist circumference is > 102 cm (> 40 in) in men or > 88 cm (> 35 in) in women.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Drug Name Select Trade
Albuked , Albumarc, Albuminar, Albuminex, AlbuRx , Albutein, Buminate, Flexbumin, Kedbumin, Macrotec, Plasbumin, Plasbumin-20
NOTE: This is the Professional Version. CONSUMERS: View Consumer Version
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