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What Is Pellagra Disease?

Pellagra is a medical condition that occurs when the levels of niacin, also known as Vitamin B3, drop in your body. It causes severe diarrhoea, dementia, and dermatitis (known as ‘the three Ds’). If pellagra is not treated on time, it can be fatal. Pellagra is quite a rare disease, but it is still a problem in many developing countries. People who are unable to absorb niacin are also at risk of suffering from pellagra. In this article, we will take a look at pellagra causes, diagnosis, treatment, and preventive measures in detail.

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What are the Causes of Pellagra?

Pellagra can be of two types:

  1. Primary Pellagra

  2. Secondary pellagra

Primary pellagra is caused by consuming food with low niacin or tryptophan, causing Vitamin B3 deficiency. This type of pellagra is common in developing countries that have corn as their staple food. Corn contains niacytin (a form of niacin) that the human body cannot digest unless the food is prepared and cooked properly.

Secondary pellagra happens when your body is unable to absorb niacin and use it for essential functions. There are a few things that can prevent your body from absorbing Vitamin B3, such as:

  • Alcohol

  • Eating disorder

  • Certain medications

  • Gastrointestinal diseases

  • Live cirrhosis

  • Carcinoid tumour

  • Hartnup disease

Additionally, the following factors can increase your risk of suffering from pellagra:

  • Anorexia nervosa

  • Diets with a high quantity of corns

  • Digestive infections

  • Low dietary intake of tryptophan

What are the Symptoms of Pellagra?

The major pellagra symptoms include diarrhoea, dementia, and dermatitis. Suffering from dermatitis as a result of pellagra can cause rashes on your body. In some cases, dermatitis is also found on the neck, which is known as the Casal necklace.

Additionally, a few other symptoms of pellagra are as follows:

  • Red and flaky skin

  • Skin discolouration (red to brown patches on the skin)

  • Thick, crusty, scaly, or cracked skin

  • Itchiness and inflammation of the skin

Neurological symptoms of pellagra are apparent in some cases. However, they are usually difficult to identify. But as pellagra disease progresses, some dementia symptoms that one can suffer from are as follows:

  • Apathy

  • Depression

  • Irritation

  • Mood swings and confusion

  • Restlessness

  • Anxiety

  • Disorientation or delusions

Also, a few other noticeable symptoms of pellagra are as follows:

  • Sore lips, tongue, or gums

  • Decreased appetite

  • Trouble eating or drinking

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

How is Pellagra Diagnosed?

Since someone suffering from pellagra can pose various symptoms, it becomes challenging for doctors to diagnose the disease. There are no specific tests for diagnosing pellagra or Vitamin B-3 deficiency. However, your doctor starts by conducting a physical examination for gastrointestinal problems, rashes, and observing changes to your mental health. Further, they can suggest taking a urine test. If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should not hesitate to visit the doctor.

What are Pellagra Treatment Options?

People suffering from primary pellagra are treated with dietary and lifestyle changes along with a niacin or nicotinamide supplement. Nicotinamide is another form of Vitamin B3 and is used for early treatments of people suffering from pellagra. If the disease is diagnosed at an early stage, one can recover completely within a few days of starting the treatment. However, skin improvements may take a while (usually, a few months). When pellagra is left untreated, it can lead to the death of the individual within 4-5 years.

When it comes to treating secondary pellagra, the underlying health condition is first diagnosed. Further, treatment for the said cause will eventually help the patient recover from pellagra. In some cases, patients also respond to taking niacin or nicotinamide supplements. In either case of pellagra, it is essential to keep the rashes moisturised and protected with sunscreen during the entire treatment and recovery phase.

Effective Pellagra Home Remedies to Try

Mild primary pellagra cases are treatable with simple dietary and lifestyle changes. A few natural ways to treat pellagra at home are:

1. Eating a Balanced Meal that is Rich in Niacin and Tryptophan

Whether or not you are suffering from pellagra, a healthy diet that is rich in niacin and tryptophan is a must. Such a meal helps you avoid acquiring the disease in the first place or its recurrence. You can consume foods such as:

  • Dairy products

  • Mushrooms

  • Peas

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Avocado

  • Rice

  • Grains

  • Legumes

  • Peanuts

  • Fish

  • Poultry

  • Leafy greens

If you do not want to consume Vitamin B3 supplements, you must follow a healthy meal that provides plenty of niacin and tryptophan.

2. Treating Diarrhoea Symptoms

A majority of people suffering from pellagra tend to also suffer from diarrhoea. A few ways you can curb diarrhoea symptoms during pellagra are as follows:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated

  • Consume easy-to-digest meals for a few days

  • Change your diet to fibre-rich meals containing whole grains, fruits, and vegetables

Also, you must avoid food and lifestyle habits that can trigger diarrhoea symptoms.

3. Getting Enough Rest

Once your pellagra treatment begins, the chances are that you might feel fatigued. Therefore, you must get enough rest during your treatment and recovery period. Sleeping 8 hours a day helps your brain relax from the neurological symptoms of pellagra. Additionally, once you regain your strength, you can practice yoga and meditation activities to ease long-lasting neurological symptoms.

When Should you See a Doctor?

As the symptoms of pellagra are vast and often similar to symptoms of other diseases, you may not initially realise that some of these milder symptoms could be of concern. In case you start developing any mild symptoms of pellagra which do not go away on their own after a few days, it is best to consult a doctor. They can recommend the right course of action after a thorough check. Pellagra is not a disease that should be taken casually as it can be fatal when left untreated.

Complications Caused By Pellagra

Some complications that can occur as a result of pellagra include:

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Depression

  • Weakness

  • Loss of Appetite

  • Mood Swings

  • Dermatitis

Know How You Can Prevent Pellagra

The best method for pellagra prevention is consuming lots of foods that are rich in chemical niacin. You should also stop consuming too much alcohol as it can block proper absorption of niacin in the body. Some of the niacin-rich foods you can incorporate into your daily diets are dairy, fish, mushrooms, legumes, peanuts, etc. However, as much as prevention is important, you must remain safe too. Protect yourself from any unplanned medical emergencies by opting for a good health insurance plan available at Finserv MARKETS.

Conclusion

Pellagra is a severe disease that can significantly affect one's life and health. As mentioned earlier, it is proven to be fatal when not treated. Therefore, it is highly recommended to seek medical attention as soon as you first start experiencing the symptoms of pellagra.

Moreover, it is suggested to consume a completely nutritious diet with the recommended allowance of niacin.

  • For adults: 14-16 mg per day

  • For pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers: 18 mg per day

  • For people under 18 years: 6-16 mg per day

Anyone suffering from pellagra can recover fully from the disease with proper medication and healthy lifestyle habits. If you are worried about the treatment cost of the disease, get in touch with your health insurance provider right away. Enquire whether pellagra or any health complication arising due to it are covered in the policy.

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FAQs on Pellagra

  • ✔️What are the main pellagra symptoms?

    The major symptoms of pellagra are:

    • Mental confusion

    • Weakness

    • Loss of appetite

    • Dermatitis

    • Diarrhoea

  • ✔️What are the ‘four Ds’ of pellagra?

    The four Ds of pellagra refer to the effects of pellagra on the body, which are; diarrhoea, dementia, dermatitis and death.

  • ✔️Who is at the most risk of developing pellagra?

    Alcoholics and people who do not consume enough niacin in their diets are at the highest risk of developing this condition.

  • ✔️Can pellagra be treated at home?

    Mild cases of pellagra can be treated at home with niacin- rich foods but you should always consult a doctor if you are facing any of the pellagra symptoms.

  • ✔️Where is pellagra most common?

    Pellagra is common in some African and Asian countries where corn is used as a staple food in everyday diets by the people.