Starvation is a condition caused by the sudden or gradual lack of food. Symptoms of starvation can occur shortly after food is first denied, but may progress at different rates depending on how quickly the victim is removed from all sources of nutrition. Some symptoms of starvation are visible, while others are internal. Starvation can occur both voluntarily, as in extreme weight-loss diets, or involuntarily, such as through abuse or a simple unavailability of food.
Often, the first symptoms of starvation are digestive in nature. A person or animal suddenly denied food will feel extremely ravenous for several days, but then slowly be able to ignore the feeling to some degree. Pain in the stomach often quickly develops, then can turn into digestive and waste-related syndromes such as severe and painful constipation followed by uncontrollable diarrhea. Early symptoms of starvation include faintness, weakness, and dizziness. Thirst may also rapidly increase.
Symptoms of starvation tend to become more visible of time. Fat cells in the face and around the eyes tend to dissipate rapidly, giving the victim a sunken or hollowed appearance. Coordination may decrease, and simple tasks may become difficult. The body slowly becomes emaciated, though the feet and hands may swell with retained water, causing edemas. A starving person or animal may feel increased sensations of cold, as body temperature begins to drop rapidly with prolonged starvation.
Internally, symptoms of starvation begin wreaking havoc on the bodily systems. Blood level drops, and severe anemia or iron-deficiency begins to occur. The body works to protect its most vital organs by devouring fat and muscle stores to help support heart and brain function. Mental function decreases throughout the process as the brain is continually deprived of necessary nutrients.
As the condition progresses toward fatality, mental symptoms become more extreme. Many victims fall into a chronic listlessness, unable to move even for basic bodily needs. Some begin to have vivid hallucinations and suffer confusion, vertigo, and vivid dreams. Some ritual starvation is undertaken to achieve these visions, but the starving person must quickly return to care and food quickly to avoid death.
Victims who die of starvation-related causes usually do so by going into cardiac arrest. When the heart can no longer support itself on the body's resources, it has no choice but to cease functioning. Some victims fall into a coma for several days before this occurs.
Starvation is a prolonged and brutal death, marked with extreme discomfort and loss of functions throughout. Even those who undertake the process voluntarily, so as to lose weight or as part of a political statement, may suffer permanent organ damage or harm to the metabolism. If a person or animal appears to be suffering enforced starvation due to abuse or lack of resources, it is important to alert welfare authorities as quickly as possible. Those in advanced stages of the condition cannot simply return to normal eating, but must be guided back toward health by medical professionals.