What Is Malaise

by Paromita Datta last updated -

Malaise is often confused with fatigue. The two have certain commonalities, but the implications of malaise go deeper. It can have a psychological and physiological effect on the body.

What Is Malaise?

Malaise is a general feeling of illness, weakness or discomfort. Unlike pain or aches which are localized, malaise has a more generalized effect on the body. It leaves a patient lethargic and depressed. Patients often complain of a general sentiment of ‘not feeling well’. The underlying reason for this health condition could be a toxin or pathogen. In both cases, it leaves the body weak and listless. All the body’s energy and resources are used to fight the toxin or pathogen. According to the book Advances in the Study of Behaviour, its deeper consequences are psychological and physiological where the patient’s body and mind changes in response to the feeling of malaise. But there is a silver lining here. Patients suffering from it are inactive, lethargic with no interest in eating or in taking care of themselves. This could be an adaptive behavior that helps the body to shore up its energy and immunological resources to fight the pathogen. [1]

A woman looking distressed, sitting in her pajamas on a bed

Sadness and depression are not the same things. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Malaise Vs Fatigue

Although both are used interchangeably, malaise and fatigue are not the same. Fatigue is a feeling of extreme tiredness, lack of energy or motivation. The reason we confuse both is that fatigue often accompanies malaise. Like malaise, it can also be caused by different factors. In extreme cases, malaise and fatigue do have a stronger association. People with chronic fatigue syndrome also suffer from a phenomenon known as post-exertional malaise or PEM. Although PEM is sometimes disputed, there is now enough research to show its association with chronic fatigue syndrome. Research published in 2018 in PLOS One, revealed that 90 percent of participants suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome reported experiencing PEM after physical, emotional or cognitive exertion. [2]


Malaise is itself a symptom of an underlying disease or condition. It is characterized by a feeling of:

  • weakness
  • lethargy
  • ill-health
  • aches


Malaise can be caused due to different reasons, from organ failure, diseases, cancer, blood disorders to psychiatric conditions. It is important to remember here that although it can be caused by these conditions, it does not always follow. The Milton S Hershey Medical Center at the PennState Health lists its common causes. These are: [3]

  • Acute infectious diseases like acute viral syndrome, pneumonia, infectious mononucleosis influenza, and Lyme disease
  • Chronic infectious diseases like AIDS, parasitic diseases, chronic active hepatitis, and tuberculosis
  • Cardiopulmonary diseases, such as COPD and congestive heart failure
  • Organ failures, such as caused by kidney diseases or liver diseases
  • Connective tissue diseases like sarcoidosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Metabolic or endocrine diseases like thyroid disease, adrenal gland dysfunction, diabetes, and pituitary gland dysfunction
  • Cancers like lymphoma, leukemia and tumor cancers
  • Blood disorders like severe anemia
  • Psychiatric problems like dysthymia and depression
  • Medicines, such as antihistamines, antiseizure medicines, beta-blockers, psychiatric medicines. Taking several medicines can also trigger this health condition.

Research shows that it could also be part of the body’s response when fighting inflammations. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroendocrinology, cytokines released as part of the body’s inflammatory response triggers changes in the brain, which induces behavioral changes like malaise. Cytokines are small proteins that help in cell communication and the body fight against inflammations. [4]

Is it contagious?

Malaise by itself is not contagious. If it arises from a viral infection, the underlying condition may itself spread. But, the malaise does not follow this transference.

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About the Author

Paromita Datta covers the latest health and wellness trends for Organic Facts. An ex-journalist who specialized in health and entertainment news, Paromita was responsible for managing a health supplement for The New Indian Express, a leading national daily in India. She has completed her post-graduation in Business Administration from the University of Rajasthan and her diploma in journalism from YMCA, Delhi. She has completed an e-course, Introduction to Food and Health, from Stanford University, US.

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