What causes malaise? 87 possible conditions

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Unlike most other conditions, malaise doesn’t have a precise set of symptoms. Instead, it is described as an overall sense of discomfort, illness, or simply not feeling well.

Sometimes, a person can have a sudden onset of malaise. Other times, it may develop gradually and persist for a long period. The reason behind an individual’s malaise can be extremely difficult to pinpoint because it can be caused by so many conditions.

However, once a diagnosis is made, treating the condition may ease the individual’s malaise.

Causes of Malaise

Health Conditions

The list below includes some of the possible explanations for malaise. However, this list is far from exhaustive. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), practically any serious health condition can result in a feeling of malaise (NIH, 2011).Therefore, it is important not to jump to conclusions about the cause until you have seen your doctor.

Some medical reasons for malaise include:

  • acute viral syndrome
  • acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS)
  • adrenal gland dysfunction
  • anemia (severe)
  • bronchitis (acute)
  • colon cancer and other cancers involving solid malignant tumors
  • congestive heart failure
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • depression
  • diabetes
  • hepatitis
  • influenza
  • kidney and liver disease
  • leukemia
  • Lyme disease
  • lymphoma
  • mononucleosis
  • parasitic infections
  • pituitary gland dysfunction (rare condition)
  • pneumonia
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • sarcoidosis
  • tuberculosis


Some medications can also put you at risk for malaise. These include:

  • anticonvulsants
  • some medications used to treat hypertension and heart disease (specifically beta blockers)
  • medications used to treat psychiatric disorders
  • antihistamines
  • combinations of different medications

Malaise and Fatigue

Fatigue often occurs along with malaise. An individual experiencing malaise will often also feel exhausted or lethargic in addition to a generalized feeling of being unwell.

Like malaise, fatigue has a large number of possible explanations. It can be attributed to lifestyle factors, illnesses, and certain medications.

When Should You See Your Doctor About Your Malaise?

The NIH recommends making an appointment with your doctor to have your malaise assessed if:

  • the feelings of malaise you are experiencing are significant
  • you have persistent malaise that has lasted longer than seven days
  • you are experiencing other symptoms in addition to the malaise (NIH, 2011)

How Is Malaise Diagnosed? 

Your doctor will likely first perform a physical examination. He or she will be looking for an obvious physical condition that could be causing your malaise or clues to its root cause.

Your doctor will also probably ask questions about your malaise. Be prepared to provide details such as:

  • approximately when the malaise started
  • whether the malaise seems to come and go, or is constantly present

In addition, your doctor will likely ask you questions about factors such as:

  • recent travel
  • additional symptoms you are experiencing
  • challenges you are experiencing with respect to completing daily activities, and why you feel you are having these challenges
  • medications you are taking
  • your current medical status, including whether you have any known health issues and/or conditions
  • alcohol use
  • drug use

Your doctor may have a better idea of what is causing you to feel generally unwell after the exam. At that point, he or she may order medical testing to confirm or rule out one or more diagnoses. These tests may include blood tests, X-rays, and other diagnostic tools.

How Can Malaise Be Treated and Prevented?

Malaise is not a condition in and of itself. Therefore, treatment will be aimed at addressing the underlying cause. It is impossible to predict what this treatment will consist of because malaise can be caused by something as simple as the flu or something as serious as leukemia.

Treatment for the underlying cause of your malaise can help control the feeling and prevent it from becoming overwhelming. You can minimize your malaise by:

  • getting plenty of rest
  • exercising regularly
  • eating a balanced, healthy diet
  • controlling stress

Because it has so many possible causes, malaise is not easy to prevent.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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