Malnutrition: laboratory markers vs nutritional assessment

Gastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2016 Nov;4(4):272-280. doi: 10.1093/gastro/gow013. Epub 2016 May 11.


Malnutrition is an independent risk factor for patient morbidity and mortality and is associated with increased healthcare-related costs. However, a major dilemma exists due to lack of a unified definition for the term. Furthermore, there are no standard methods for screening and diagnosing patients with malnutrition, leading to confusion and varying practices among physicians across the world. The role of inflammation as a risk factor for malnutrition has also been recently recognized. Historically, serum proteins such as albumin and prealbumin (PAB) have been widely used by physicians to determine patient nutritional status. However, recent focus has been on an appropriate nutrition-focused physical examination (NFPE) for diagnosing malnutrition. The current consensus is that laboratory markers are not reliable by themselves but could be used as a complement to a thorough physical examination. Future studies are needed to identify serum biomarkers in order to diagnose malnutrition unaffected by inflammatory states and have the advantage of being noninvasive and relatively cost-effective. However, a thorough NFPE has an unprecedented role in diagnosing malnutrition.

Keywords: malnutrition; physical examination; serum markers.

Publication types

  • Review