Malaise: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

By Robynn Lowe
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
July 13, 2022

Malaise is a general feeling of being unwell. It can also be described as feeling unwell, sick, or having body discomfort.

Many times fatigue also accompanies malaise.

The feeling of malaise can come on quickly or slowly, depending on the sickness. Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the malaise.

In this article, we talk about what malaise is and what can cause it.

We also talk about how it is diagnosed and treated and when you should see your medical professional.  

What is Malaise?

Malaise is not a condition of its own but is a symptom of many health conditions.

Sometimes the feeling of malaise can come on slowly, and sometimes, it hits suddenly.

How long it lingers depends on what the underlying condition is. 

Sometimes the reason for the malaise can be challenging to diagnose as it’s associated with many health conditions.

Symptoms

Symptoms of malaise include:

  • Your body doesn’t feel right
  • You feel “off-color”
  • You feel poorly or unwell
  • You feel like you are getting sick
  • You have vague body discomfort

Malaise is often accompanied by feelings of fatigue (feeling tired), loss of appetite, and body aches

Types of Malaise

Some malaise you can recover from rather quickly, while some malaise is long-term, lasting a long time with a chronic medical condition.

What Causes Malaise?

Many conditions can cause malaise, including diseases, viruses, bacteria, and other conditions. Some types of medications can also cause malaise. 

Medical Conditions

Numerous medical conditions can make you feel malaise. The following is a list of only some of the causes.

Before jumping to conclusions, be sure to see your primary medical professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Organ problems such as:

Cancers such as:

  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Colon cancer

Chronic conditions such as:

Illness

Short-term causes for malaise can be:

Long-term infections that cause malaise can include:

  • AIDS by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Active hepatitis
  • Parasite infections
  • Lymes disease
  • Tuberculosis

Medication Side Effects

You may be taking several medications for certain medical conditions that could cause malaise as a side effect.

If you feel this is the case, speak with the prescribing medical professional about it before stopping the medication. There may be an alternative medication that won’t give you malaise.

The following is a list of possible medications:

  • Antihistamines (allergy and cold medications)
  • Anticonvulsants (seizure medications)
  • Beta-blockers (high blood pressure and heart disease medications)
  • Psychiatric medicine (mental disorder medications)
  • Type of treatments that require several medications to be used
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How Is Malaise Diagnosed?

Diagnosis will first start with your primary medical professional reviewing your medical history and current medication list.

They will also ask you questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • How severe is your malaise? 
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?

Then your medical professional will perform a physical exam, including taking your vital signs, listening to your heart and lungs, and assessing your abdomen. 

You may be asked to take some more diagnostic tests depending on any accompanying symptoms.

Urinalysis (UA)

A urinalysis can check for possible urinary tract infections and other abnormalities in the urine.

Blood work

Having your blood drawn and sent to the lab for review can give many clues as to what could be causing your malaise.

Your primary care professional can look at your blood levels, including:

  • White blood count level (to check for infection)
  • Red blood cell count (to check for anemia)
  • Check your electrolyte levels 
  • Check the function of your heart, liver, and kidneys
  • Check your blood sugar levels
  • See your thyroid hormone levels

Imaging exams and other tests

If your symptoms lead your medical professional to believe there could be a problem with one of your internal organs, they may order some imaging tests to see what’s going on inside your body.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a great way to see cross-section images of your organs without radiation exposure
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan uses an x-ray to look for problems with your organs
  • Ultrasound can be used to check how organs like your heart are functioning.
  • An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) can see the electrical activity of your heart and read if there is any problem with your heartbeat. 
  • An X-ray can also be used to see the lungs, abdomen, and other potential sites of infection. 

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your malaise.

For some viral infections, your primary medical professional may tell you to go home and rest, eat a balanced diet, and stay hydrated while your body fights off the infection.

For a bacterial, fungal, or parasitic infection, your doctor may prescribe you a medication to help kill the infection.

Be sure to take all your medications as ordered, and don’t stop taking them when you start to feel better. Finish the whole regimen to be assured the infection won’t return.

For reasons related to long-term or chronic medical conditions, your medical professional will go over medications used to treat those problems. 

Self-care

Things you can do when not feeling well:

  • Allow your body to get plenty of rest
  • Eat foods that are healthy and support immune function
  • Do light exercise for short periods like walking around your house and stretching (but don’t push yourself too hard)
  • Decrease unneeded stress until you are back to health
  • Keep yourself hydrated
  • Avoid drinking alcohol and smoking
  • If you have body aches, take over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen
  • Avoid being around other people and spreading the sickness
  • Ask family or friends for help, so you can have time to rest
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When To Seek Medical Attention

Contact your primary medical professional if you experience:

  • Other symptoms with your malaise
  • Malaise for longer than one week, with or without accompanying symptoms

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and, if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does malaise feel like?
Malaise can be described as having a general feeling of being unwell. Some people describe it as feeling poorly, sick, or “off-color.” Sometimes you may feel other symptoms along with malaise, such as feeling tired, not hungry, no energy, and body aches.
What does having malaise mean?
If you have malaise, it means something is going wrong inside your body. The reasons can vary between short-term infections or long-term chronic illnesses. Some medications can also cause malaise as a side effect.
What is malaise caused by?
Most medical conditions can cause malaise. The source of the malaise could be an infectious illness from a bacteria or virus, this type of malaise doesn’t typically last too long. There is also the chance your malaise could be caused by a chronic condition.
Is malaise serious?
Malaise itself is not a medical condition, but rather it is a symptom. Malaise itself may not be serious, but the underlying cause for the malaise could be serious. It’s best to contact your primary medical professional if you are not feeling well and have them determine what could be causing your malaise.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Robynn Lowe

Robynn Lowe is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years in the medical field. Robynn received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Florida Atlantic University and has been practicing in rural family medicine since. Robynn is married to her college sweetheart, Raymond and they have three awesome children. When Robynn isn't with patients you can find her shopping, coaching her kids sports teams, or spending time on the water.

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