Protein energy malnutrition is associated with cerebral atrophy which may be detrimental to intellectual development. The aim of this study was to document the anatomical abnormalities which lead to the appearance of cerebral atrophy using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the acute stage of kwashiorkor and to monitor changes during nutritional rehabilitation. Twelve children aged 6 to 37 months requiring admission to hospital for the treatment of kwashiorkor were studied. The children were evaluated clinically, biochemically, and by MRI of their brains on admission and 30 and 90 days later. Brain shrinkage was present in every child on admission. White and grey matter appeared equally affected and the myelination was normal for age. At 90 days, the cerebral changes had resolved in nine and improved substantially in the remainder, by which time serum proteins and weight for age were within the normal range. The findings of this study suggest that brain shrinkage associated with kwashiorkor reverses rapidly with nutritional rehabilitation.
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