Malaise

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Introduction

What is malaise?

Malaise is a general feeling of being unwell, either emotionally or physically, or a combination of the two. Almost any medical or emotional condition can bring on feelings of malaise.

Long-term (chronic) conditions, such as anemia (low red blood cell count) or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), may cause malaise in addition to such conditions as infections, cancers, arthritis, kidney diseases, lung diseases, or other illnesses. Short-term (acute) conditions, such as a urinary tract infection or viral respiratory infection, may also lead to malaise.

Malaise can be associated with depression and fatigue. Depression is defined as feeling blue, miserable or sad. You may occasionally experience mild depression and that is normal. Fatigue is characterized by a lack of energy and feeling tired. Again, you may occasionally experience mild fatigue and this is normal. However, long-term depression, often called clinical depression, and chronic fatigue can be characterized as malaise and may indicate more serious emotional or psychological problems.

Stress, lack of sleep, and poor diet are all factors that worsen malaise.

Malaise that is related to an acute condition, such as an illness that is caused by an infection, may require emergency attention. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience malaise along with other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or cramping, high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) and chills, chest pain or pressure, muscle weakness or paralysis, or difficulty breathing.

Seek prompt medical care if you experience enduring malaise to determine whether your malaise is related to a chronic medical condition.

Symptoms

What other symptoms might occur with malaise?

Malaise may accompany other symptoms that vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Malaise that is related to a physical disorder may differ from malaise that is related to an emotional or psychological condition in terms of the symptoms it causes.

Physical symptoms that may occur along with malaise

Malaise may accompany other symptoms affecting the body including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with malaise

Malaise may accompany symptoms related to an emotional or psychological disturbance including:

  • Anxiety
  • Changes in mood, personality or behavior
  • Depression
  • Difficulty with memory, thinking, talking, comprehension, writing or reading
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Lack of energy
  • Lethargy

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, malaise may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

Causes

What causes malaise?

Malaise can result from a wide variety of physical and emotional disturbances.

Emotional or psychological causes of malaise

Malaise may be caused by emotional or psychological disturbances including:

Physical causes of malaise

Malaise can also be caused by chronic physical disorders including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of malaise

In some cases, malaise may be a symptom of a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated by a healthcare provider. These include:

  • Cancers

  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of malaise

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your malaise including:

  • How long have you felt severely fatigued?

  • Do you feel depressed?

  • When did you first notice the feelings of fatigue?

  • Are you in any physical pain or discomfort?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of malaise?

Complications of malaise will depend on the underlying disease or disorder. Malaise as a symptom of an emotional or psychological disturbance could lead to an inability to participate in daily tasks. Because malaise can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Difficulty performing daily tasks

  • Inability to participate normally in activities

  • Permanent or chronic pain

  • Severe discomfort or pain

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

  • Withdrawal or depression

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Dec 26
  1. Fatigue. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003088.htm.
  2. Depression. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003213.htm.
  3. Bruera E, Yennurajalingam S. Challenge of managing cancer-related fatigue. J Clin Oncol 2010; 28:3671.
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