Refeeding syndrome is likely to occur when a person is recovering from a period of starvation. This syndrome occurs when a person is fed too aggressively when recovering from starvation, which can be fatal in some cases. People who often suffer from refeeding syndrome are those who have had anorexia nervosa, cancer, chronic malnutrition or those who have not eaten for several days. This syndrome is very dangerous because it can cause phosphate levels to become low, as well as low levels of potassium and magnesium within the blood stream.
During periods of starvation, the body adapts to the circumstance and uses its stored energy in the muscles and liver. After the body begins to receive an adequate food supply, it begins using the food for energy instead of the energy reserves. As the body switches back, it can cause an imbalance of fluid and electrolytes, as well as vitamin deficiencies.
When refeeding syndrome occurs, serious complications can occur. These complications include breathing and heart problems, impaired mental status and seizures. It is not unlikely for paralysis, insulin resistance or bone problems to develop as well. In some cases, refeeding syndrome can be fatal.
To prevent refeeding syndrome from occurring, it is important to slowly reintroduce fluids and food. It should be a slow, gradual process to reduce the risk for developing refeeding syndrome. The calories ingested need to be kept low and slowly increased to allow the body to properly adapt after a period of starvation. This is often done with small meals given multiple times per day instead of larger meals three times per day. The blood nutrients should be monitored while a person is going through this transition.