Prevalence, Clinical Predictors, and Outcome of Hypocalcaemia in Severely-malnourished Underfive Children Admitted to an Urban Hospital in Bangladesh: A Case-Control Study

Mohammod J. Chisti, Mohammed A. Salam, Hasan Ashraf, A.S.G. Faruque, Pradip K. Bardhan, Abu S.M.S.B. Shahid, K.M. Shahunja, Sumon K. Das, Tahmeed Ahmed


Hypocalcaemia is common in severely-malnourished children and is often associated with fatal outcome. There is very limited information on the clinical predicting factors of hypocalcaemia in hospitalized severely-malnourished under-five children. Our objective was to evaluate the prevalence, clinical predicting factors, and outcome of hypocalcaemia in such children. In this case-control study, all severely-malnourished under-five children (n=333) admitted to the Longer Stay Ward (LSW), High Dependency Unit (HDU), and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Dhaka Hospital of icddr,b between April 2011 and April 2012, who also had their total serum calcium estimated, were enrolled. Those who presented with hypocalcaemia (serum calcium <2.12 mmol/L) constituted the cases (n=87), and those admitted without hypocalcaemia (n=246) constituted the control group in our analysis. The prevalence of hypocalcaemia among severelymalnourished under-five children was 26% (87/333). The fatality rate among cases was significantly higher than that in the controls (17% vs 5%; p<0.001). Using logistic regression analysis, after adjusting for potential confounders, such as vomiting, abdominal distension, and diastolic hypotension, we identified acute watery diarrhoea (AWD) (OR 2.19, 95% CI 1.08-4.43, p=0.030), convulsion on admission (OR 21.86, 95% CI 2.57-185.86, p=0.005), and lethargy (OR 2.70, 95% CI 1.633-5.46, p=0.006) as independent predictors of hypocalcaemia in severely-malnourished children. It is concluded, severely-malnourished children presenting with hypocalcaemia have an increased risk of death than those without hypocalcaemia. AWD, convulsion, and lethargy assessed on admission to hospital are the clinical predictors of hypocalcaemia in such children. Presence of these features in hospitalized children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) should alert clinicians about the possibility of hypocalcaemia and may help undertake potential preventive measures, such as calcium supplementation, in addition to other aspects of management of such children, especially in the resource-poor settings.

Key words: Children; Hypocalcaemia; Severe malnutrition; Bangladesh

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