What is Malaise?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2019
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Malaise is a sense of general unwellness. It is one of the most pernicious and common symptoms of illness, experienced by people with a wide range of medical conditions. Often, this feeling is the first sign that someone is unwell. People may refer to feeling “out of sorts,” “under the weather,” or simply “unwell,” and the specifics can vary from person to person, and from case to case. While it is not a very specific symptom, it can be a clue that a person is experiencing an underlying problem and could benefit from some attention.

One common aspect of malaise is depression, which can include disinterest in one's surroundings, sadness, feelings of hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities that were previously engaging. The depression can become quite severe for some patients, especially those with a history of depressive episodes or other mental health problems. For some people, this feeling may lead to wanting to stay in bed all day, sleeping heavily, and disengaging from social activities and the world in general.

Other aspects of malaise can include fatigue, nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, chills, fever, and headaches. People may also just feel generally “off,” although they may not be able to identify any specific symptoms. It can also be accompanied with difficulty processing visual or audible information, trouble focusing, and difficulty concentrating.


Underlying disease processes such as infections, inflammations, cancers, and so forth can cause a general sense of not feeling well as an early symptom. People can also experience a sense of general unwellness as a result of hunger, thirst, fatigue, or stress. In these case, it is often brought about by the vagus nerve, which can cause a vasovagal response. The vagus nerve may make people feel dizzy or lightheaded, and it can also be associated with blacking out, changes to the vision, and discomfort in the chest.

Persistent malaise is not usually enough to send someone to a medical professional, but it can be a clue. When discussing symptoms, it can be good for patients to mention when they first started feeling unwell, even if this was days or weeks before the onset of more specific symptoms. It is also a good idea for individuals to be as specific as possible about their symptoms; rather than saying “I feel achy,” for example, a patient could say “my joints ache in the morning” or “my legs ache after sitting in the same position for a while.”


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Discuss this Article

Post 10

@Miss Muffet: How about explaining "ME". I've never heard of it, and can't guess what it stands for.

Post 9

I have been suffering from dizziness, light-headedness, aches and pains, tiredness, breathlessness, flu like symptoms every now and then, with poor concentration for the last seven years, and all test results have been perfect, with no diagnosis yet. What should I do?

Post 8

One aspect of this topic I haven't seen mentioned is ME. My best friend suffers from this, though it took several years to get an official diagnosis.

Defining malaise to most people is like trying to explain the Internet to an alien! Combining this with an outline of the many symptoms of ME makes it a tough condition to get sympathy for.

I am happy to see people talking about this topic. The more awareness people have of how devastating malaise can be, the better.

Post 7

The article discusses malaise primarily as a physical condition but I believe it has a psychological and spiritual component as well. It is possible for malaise to be a symptom of a kind of existential angst.

People have described a deep and pervasive feeling of malaise following the conclusion of a war. It is at periods like this when nothing seems absolute and the most basic assumptions of civilization crumble away to reveal how fragile they were in the first place.

Malaise, then, is not a purely physical feeling and certainly not just and irrational feeling. Sometimes malaise is the appropriate response to situations in which the world seems hopelessly bleak. It is a kind pervasive disappointment in the state of things.

Post 6

@ellaferris - That's a very good idea to talk to your doctor about your malaise symptoms. Stress often leads to depression and you don't want that to happen.

Because of all the demands we put on ourselves these days most all of us at some point or another will experience a stressful situation.

Any doctor will tell you that it's important to eat right, get plenty of sleep and develop an exercise routine. Exercises that involve yoga or meditation will do wonders for your overall health, especially your mind.

Post 5

So, what the article is saying is that my stiff knees are vagal malaise related to stress? I just thought it was signs of arthritis behavior in my joints. But that makes sense since it seems that all our aches and pains have originated from some sort of stress these days.

I'll have to discuss the definition of malaise further with my doctor. It's good to know that my pain and stiffness may be caused from something other than arthritis.

Post 4

The overall definition of malaise is exactly what my dad was feeling for more than a year. He couldn't put his finger on his pain and told everyone he was suffering from bursitis. No doctor could determine what he had until it was too late. He died a few months later of lung cancer.

It's sad to me that he suffered with pain and just couldn't figure it out because he had been healthy his whole life. Malaise is truly an important signal in our bodies. Sometimes it's a passing problem, but sometimes it's something more serious.

Post 3

If someone in your family is suffering from a general feeling of malaise, but is also changing their behaviors there is a good chance they might be depressed. I found that I could spot depression in my mother when she would start to complain of feeling malaise. Usually she would then retreat to her room and spend a great deal of time sleeping.

When my mother got worse, she would just refuse to do anything always complaining about feeling unwell and not up for anything. It took a long time but we finally got her to a doctor.

If you suspect your loved ones malaise may be a mental health issue make sure to get them help.

Post 2

General malaise is such a subtle term for such an important clue to our health. When you are feeling unwell, whether it's the flu or inflammation setting in, a sense of malaise is like a wake-up call to pay attention to what your body is telling you.

For chronic sufferers of pain, depression can become a real problem. When we feel unable to control our own health, it can deepen the depression to a point where an expert should be seen to help manage a life that feels out of control.

Post 1

If you find that you are suffering from a malaise and it is difficult to kick, you may want to talk to your doctor about your feelings. Often there are medical conditions that can trigger a general feeling of being unwell.

I find that I feel a malaise during the winter and always thought it was just my general dislike for a long cold season ahead of me. I felt sluggish and lost interest in my hobbies. I also slept too much and just felt off for the season. I finally talked to my doctor about it and it turned out I was one of the many of people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Generally caused by a lack of vitamin D from sunlight it is very common and easily held at bay.

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