What is Pellagra?
Pellagra is a disease that occurs when there is a deficiency of niacin, also called Vitamin B-3. If this condition is not treated well in time, it may be fatal.
There are two types of pellagra disease:
- Primary Pellagra: This type of pellagra occurs when the person’s diet is low in niacin or tryptophan.
- Secondary Pellagra: This type of pellagra occurs when a person’s body cannot absorb niacin.
Some of the main symptoms of disease pellagra are dementia, dermatitis, and diarrhea. They are also called “the three Ds”. Other than that, a person may also experience the following signs as well:
- Swelling in tongue
- Rashes on face, lips or hands
- Decreased appetite
As pellagra progresses, the patient can also show potential dementia symptoms which are as follows:
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Confusion and mood change
- Hair loss
Who is at Risk?
Depending on the type of pellagra, there are different risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of getting it. Primary pellagra disease is common where people include corn as a staple food. While corn does contain niacytin, the human body cannot digest it properly.
For secondary pellagra, the risk factors include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Certain medicines
- Vegetarian / vegan diet
- Low dietary intake of tryptophan
- Eating disorders
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Hartnup disease
One of the main pellagra disease causes is the deficiency of niacin in the body. Niacin is present in animal proteins, vegetables, and fruits. The human body can also make niacin using essential amino acids. When this Vitamin B-3 is lacking, it can lead to various symptoms as listed above.
Some reasons why the body can experience niacin deficiency are:
- Diet: A diet rich in untreated corn can cause pellagra. In addition, excessive alcohol also leads to niacin deficiency, thereby causing pellagra.
- Certain Health Conditions: Some other diseases such as Carcinoid syndrome, Crohn’s disease, prolonged diarrhea, and ulcerative colitis can also cause pellagra.
How is pellagra diagnosed?
Since the symptoms of pellagra mimic that of other health conditions, it is mostly ignored in most cases and can lead to various complications. Thus, if you experience any of the signs that indicate pellagra, schedule an appointment with the doctor right away. An early diagnosis can help in preventing fatal complications.
Here are some tests you can expect during pellagra disease diagnosis:
- Physical exam: The doctor will first examine you physically and get details about your medical history and diet.
- Lab tests: To get an accurate diagnosis, the doctors also conduct blood or urine test to check if your body has sufficient niacin or not.
- Niacin Supplements: In some cases, the doctors also check how the body responds to niacin supplements.
How is pellagra treated?
The treatment of pellagra involves methods that aim at increasing niacin levels in the body. For this, the doctors prescribe supplements and certain medications. Other than that, the doctors also treat symptoms such as skin sores with medicines. Protection from the sun is also recommended to avoid the triggers for symptoms.
Pellagra treatment may take a few days to show improvement. Pellagra may sound like a normal disease but if it is not treated, it can cause death after four or five years. If you or any of your loved one is suffering from this condition, seek proper treatment for a timely recovery.
We, at Care.Fit, have a dedicated and experienced panel of doctors that can help you find the best treatment options for pellagra. We also offer online appointment booking through our app and website to ensure a smooth and hassle-free medical consultation. You can visit it to find the best medical care and also get the chance to avail discounts on your first appointment.
How can pellagra be prevented?
Prevention of pellagra disease can be done through various lifestyle and dietary changes. Here are some of the measures you can take to avoid niacin deficiency:
- Eat a diet rich in tryptophan, which plays a role in making niacin, such as seafood, meat, yeast, eggs, bran, peanuts green vegetables, whole-grain cereals, legumes, and seeds.
- Avoid drinking excessive alcohol. Practice moderation and if possible quit the habit.
- Drink enough water to stay hydrated.
- Begin early treatment in case you experience any of the pellagra symptoms.