What Should You Know About Pellagra?

Pellagra is caused by deficiency of niacin i.e. Vitamin B3. It is identified by 4D’s: Dermatitis (photosensitive), Diarrhoea, Dementia and Death. This skin disease can be fatal if not treated on time. Pellagra is more common in under developed or developing countries due to bad food production. It can also affect people whose bodies don’t properly absorb niacin.

Niacin is found in many foods such as chicken, beef, fish, avocado, dates, mushroom, broccoli, asparagus.

Causes of Pellagra disease

Pellagra can be of two types primary or secondary.

Primary pellagra is caused of eating diet low in vitamin B3 or tryptophan, vitamin B6. This is most common in developing countries in which people eat corn or maize as a staple food.

Tryptophan is available in most animal and plant proteins such as chicken, turkey, eggs, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, peanuts, and soybeans. Tryptophan is converted in niacin by enzymes in our body.

Secondary Pellagra is due to malabsorption i.e. when your body can’t absorb niacin. Things that can prevent your body from absorbing niacin include:

  • alcoholism
  • medications, like anti-convulsants and immunosuppressive drugs
  • Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
  • cirrhosis of the liver

Symptoms of Pellagra Disease

The main symptoms are 4 d : Dermatitis, Diarrhea, Dementia and eventually death. Niacin deficiency is most noticeable in body parts with high cell production such as your skin or gastrointestinal tract.

Pellagra dermatitis usually causes a appear on the face, lips, feet, or hands. In some people,dermatitis appear as Casal necklace on neck.

Dermatitis symptoms begins with red, flaky skin goes up to brown and become thick, crusty, scaly, or cracked skin to give appearance like sunburn.The rash may become severe with darker pigmentation and blisters. Rashes can be itchy or burning as well.

Other possible pellagra symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Hallucination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sores on the lips, tongue, or gums
  • Nausea or vomiting

Diagnosis is totally symptomatic, there is no specific test to measure vitamin B3 in body.

Treatment depend upon the cause. Primary pellagra is treated with dietary changes and a niacin supplement. Skin improvement may take several months. However, if left untreated, primary pellagra usually causes death after four or five years.Treating secondary pellagra usually focuses on treating the underlying problem.

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