What Is Malaise?

Feeling tired, weak, fatigued, or sick, but don't know why? Malaise could be the answer.

Sad and depressed woman sitting on the sofa at home

Maria Korneeva / Getty Images

If you've ever felt off, but couldn't figure out what exactly was wrong, you might have experienced malaise. Malaise is not a condition, but it can appear as a symptom of many other health conditions. It is characterized by a sense of weakness, tiredness, discomfort, or feeling unwell. Sometimes malaise is confused with fatigue, which can co-occur with malaise, but fatigue is a distinct condition characterized by exhaustion that does not improve with rest. 

What Causes Malaise?

Malaise is a general feeling of being unwell that may be a symptom of multiple health conditions, reactions to medications, or other causes.

Research says that inflammatory proteins called cytokines, which deploy when your immune system activates or doesn’t work properly, may be partly responsible for malaise. Malaise may also occur if the cells in your body don’t have enough energy.  

Malaise may also be the result of a medical condition or medication. Here are some conditions and medications known to cause malaise.

Medical Conditions

Malaise can be a symptom of multiple infectious and non-infectious diseases and conditions:

  • Respiratory infections: Diseases including pneumonia, tuberculosis, the common cold, influenza, bronchitis, and pneumonia cause malaise, even in the absence of fever.
  • Other infections: Lyme disease, mononucleosis, AIDS, hepatitis, and other parasitic infections can cause malaise. 
  • Organ failure or disease: Congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, kidney disease, and liver disease are life-threatening conditions that can cause malaise. 
  • Connective tissue diseases: Rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, and systemic lupus erythematosus can cause malaise.
  • Metabolic disease: Adrenal gland dysfunction, diabetes, and thyroid disease can cause malaise and fatigue.
  • Cancers: Leukemia, lymphoma, colon and other cancers are also known to cause malaise and fatigue. The cancer cells siphon off your body’s energy so that they can grow.
  • Blood disorders: Anemia occurs when the blood isn’t able to transport enough oxygen to the body’s tissues and organs. This energy deficit can cause malaise.
  • Psychiatric conditions: Depression, anxiety, and dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder) are associated with higher levels of inflammation leading to malaise. 

Many people recovering from COVID-19 and those with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) may also experience post-exertional malaise. This occurs when minor mental or physical activity has a drastic impact on the body’s metabolism. As a result, it leads to malaise, fatigue, and a worsening of other symptoms.  


Malaise is an unwanted, but common, side effect of different types of medications:

  • Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medication): In rare cases, malaise can be a warning sign of serious liver side effects. 
  • Antihistamine (allergy medication): These drugs affect the levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This affects your brain’s attention and arousal, which can cause you to feel malaise, fatigue, and drowsiness.
  • Beta-blockers: These drugs are used to lower blood pressure or treat heart disease, and can lower the amount of oxygen transported to the rest of the body. Since your cells are receiving less fuel, this can lead to malaise. 
  • Psychiatric medications: Malaise is a warning sign of more serious side effects for antipsychotic medications. Taking or tapering off of antidepressants can also cause malaise. 

Symptoms of Malaise

There isn’t a lot of peer-reviewed research focused solely on malaise. However, there are still clear symptoms that allow healthcare providers to make a diagnosis:

  • A sense of general discomfort
  • Feeling weak, unwell, or ill 
  • Vague bodily discomfort

How to Treat Malaise

The treatments for malaise depend on the underlying cause. Sometimes the cause isn’t apparent and requires further diagnostic tests. 

A healthcare professional might ask for your family history as well as any new medications you might be taking. If they believe your malaise is linked to a drug reaction, they may suggest switching to another medication. If the underlying cause is still unknown, they may request different tests to diagnose the source of the symptoms. 

These tests include:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of anemia, cancer, metabolic diseases, and inflammation.
  • Screenings for mental illnesses like anxiety or depression.
  • A physical exam to assess your overall health.
  • X-rays and other diagnostic imaging for cancer and other abnormalities.

The causes of malaise aren’t always clear-cut and can be difficult to diagnose. For the majority of cases, these tests can clear up the source of malaise. For example, if the blood test shows low iron levels suggesting anemia, this might be the source of your malaise. Your healthcare practitioner would then recommend iron supplements to treat the anemia.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If malaise lasts longer than one week or co-occurs with other symptoms, you should contact your healthcare provider. In addition to medical treatments, your healthcare provider may recommend certain lifestyle changes to help treat the malaise or underlying conditions

A Quick Review 

Malaise is a common symptom of many different conditions. It is characterized by feeling unwell or general physical discomfort. 

If accompanied by other symptoms or the malaise lasts at least a week, you should speak with your healthcare provider. They will help diagnose and treat the underlying cause of malaise. 

Was this page helpful?
23 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Malaise.

  2. Smith AP. Twenty-five years of research on the behavioural malaise associated with influenza and the Common Cold. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(6):744-751. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.09.002

  3. Filler K, Lyon D, Bennett J, et al. Association of mitochondrial dysfunction and fatigue: A review of the literature. BBA Clinical. 2014;1:12-23. doi:10.1016/j.bbacli.2014.04.001

  4. Kuchar, E., Miśkiewicz, K., Nitsch-Osuch, A., Szenborn, L. (2015). Pathophysiology of clinical symptoms in acute viral respiratory tract infections. In: Pokorski, M. (eds) pulmonary infection. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 857. Springer, Cham. doi:10.1007/5584_2015_110

  5. Bucks RS, Gidron Y, Harris P, Teeling J, Wesnes KA, Perry VH. Selective effects of upper respiratory tract infection on cognition, mood and emotion processing: A prospective study. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. 2008;22(3):399-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2007.09.005

  6. Tanaka Y. Rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation and Regeneration. 2020;40(1). doi:10.1186/s41232-020-00133-8

  7. UpToDate. Cancer-related fatigue: Treatment.

  8. Butt Z, Rosenbloom SK, Abernethy AP, et al. Fatigue is the most important symptom for advanced cancer patients who have had chemotherapy. Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 2008;6(5):448-455. doi:10.6004/jnccn.2008.0036 

  9. MedlinePlus. Anemia.

  10. Anisman H. Neurochemical and behavioral responses to inflammatory immune stressors. Frontiers in Bioscience. 2009;S1(1):275-295. doi:10.2741/s26

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating the most disruptive symptoms first and preventing worsening of symptoms.

  12. McGregor NR, Armstrong CW, Lewis DP, Gooley PR. Post-exertional malaise is associated with hypermetabolism, hypoacetylation and purine metabolism deregulation in ME/CFS cases. Diagnostics. 2019;9(3):70. doi:10.3390/diagnostics9030070

  13. Jason LA, Islam MF, Conroy K, et al. Covid-19 symptoms over time: Comparing long-haulers to me/CFS. Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior. 2021;9(2):59-68. doi:10.1080/21641846.2021.1922140

  14. Subbarao BS, Silverman A, Eapen BC. Seizure medications. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  15. Schaefer TS, Zito PM. Antiemetic histamine h1 receptor blockers. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  16. Farzam K, Jan A. Beta blockers. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  17. Sheffler ZM, Patel P, Abdijadid S. Antidepressants. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  18. Taylor DM, Barnes TRE, Young AH. Schizophrenia and related psychoses. The Maudsley Prescribing Guidelines in Psychiatry. 1st ed. Wiley; 2021. doi:10.1002/9781119870203.mpg001

  19. MedGen. Malaise.

  20. MedlinePlus. What you need to know about blood testing.

  21. MedlinePlus. Mental health screening.

  22. American Cancer Society. Tests for anal cancer.

  23. Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms, Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Ending discrimination against people with mental and substance sse disorders: The evidence for stigma change. National Academies Press (US); 2016.

Related Articles