Malaise is a term for a general feeling of discomfort, illness, or fatigue that has no clearly identifiable cause.
A person may feel this way for various reasons. Some causes are transient and relatively benign, while others are more chronic and severe.
While health issues can cause malaise, people’s experiences and descriptions of this feeling tend to differ, which can create challenges for a doctor during diagnosis.
In this article, we review the definition of malaise and describe some causes of this symptom. We also provide information about how malaise can influence a diagnosis and what treatments are available.
Malaise is a general feeling of being unwell. It is a symptom, not a condition.
People tend to experience and describe malaise in different ways, but their descriptions tend to involve one or more of the following elements:
These symptoms may appear suddenly, or they may come on very gradually. Also, for some people, malaise comes and goes, while for others it is lasting.
Malaise may be mild to severe. In some cases, it is so severe that it interferes with a person’s work performance, family life, and other relationships.
Many issues can cause malaise. Some general causes include:
- decreased physical activity
- jet lag
- viral infections
- medications, with malaise being a side effect
- drug withdrawal
- chronic medical conditions
- mental health conditions
Some chronic medical conditions that can cause malaise include:
- chronic anemia
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- kidney disease
- liver disease
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD
Some viral infections that can cause malaise include:
Some of these causes are more serious than others. If a person with malaise is having trouble determining the cause, they should speak with a doctor.
Some causes of malaise are temporary and tend not to cause any lasting harm. Examples include:
- jet lag
- the common cold
When malaise results from an underlying medical condition, a person’s health may deteriorate if they do not receive treatment. Diabetes, HIV, or cancer, for example, can lead to very serious complications, and even death, without proper treatment.
People may have difficulty identifying the cause of their malaise, and if this happens, it is important to see a doctor, who will work to diagnose the issue and provide appropriate treatment.
Doctors may find it challenging to identify and treat the cause of malaise. This is because there are many potential causes, and people tend to experience and describe malaise in different ways.
When making a diagnosis, a doctor will take a full medical history. This may include questions about:
- diet and exercise habits
- sleep habits
- drug or alcohol use
- prescription or over-the-counter medications
- other symptoms
- a family history of certain medical conditions
In order to confirm a diagnosis, the doctor may request further tests, such as blood or imaging tests.
A person may be able to identify the cause of their malaise. In some cases, the cause is temporary and does not require medical treatment. Examples of such causes include:
- jet lag
- the common cold
Other causes of malaise are more serious and have the potential to cause further harm.
See a doctor if:
- malaise is so severe that it affects daily activities
- the cause of malaise is unclear
- there are any additional symptoms
Attempting to treat malaise without determining the cause can lead to inappropriate or ineffective treatment.
For example, caffeine may temporarily relieve feelings of fatigue, but it will not resolve the underlying issue.
Treatment for malaise depends on its cause. When malaise results from a medical issue, treating this issue should help resolve the malaise.
People who experience unexplained fatigue may be tempted to use stimulants, such as caffeine or modafinil (Alertec).
These drugs may alleviate fatigue in the short term, but they are not a permanent solution. Instead, people with fatigue may benefit from regular physical activity, such as stretching and aerobic exercise.
When malaise is characterized by feelings of depression, a person may benefit from antidepressant medication, which may alleviate symptoms and increase energy levels. Some people also benefit from talking therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
People with malaise should see their doctors for regular checkups. This can help the doctor better understand the underlying issue, resulting in a more accurate diagnosis and more effective treatment.
Malaise is an unspecific symptom, and it can result from a diverse range of issues. Some causes come and go and are relatively harmless, while others can be lasting and severe.
A person should see a doctor if they experience severe, chronic, or unexplained malaise, or if other symptoms are present.
Diagnosing the cause of malaise can be difficult, especially because experiences and descriptions of malaise can differ. When making a diagnosis, a doctor will take a full medical history, and they may need to perform diagnostic tests.
A person with malaise may need to make frequent visits to their doctor. An ongoing conversation will provide the doctor with a more full and accurate understanding of the person’s experience and the underlying issue. Once the doctor has identified the cause of malaise, appropriate treatment can begin.