5 complications of malaria

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

Once an infected mosquito bites you, the parasites travel to your liver where they multiply. The liver then releases these new malaria parasites back into the bloodstream, where they infect red blood cells and multiply further.

Some malaria parasites remain in the liver and do not circulate till later, resulting in recurrence.


Signs and symptoms typically begin within a few weeks after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle pain and fatigue


1. Organ failure

Red blood cells that are infected with malaria become ‘sticky’ and as they pass through the the small blood vessels inside your body’s organs, they become stuck – this process is known as “sequestration”.

As the number of red blood cells stuck inside the small blood vessels increases, blood flow to the organ is reduced. This can cause your kidneys or liver to fail, or your spleen to rupture. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening.

2. Cerebral malaria

Since the malaria parasites affect the behaviour of your red blood cells, the parasite-filled blood cells block the small blood vessels to your brain.

This can lead to swelling of your brain or brain damage due to reduced blood flow. Cerebral malaria may cause seizures, coma or even death.

3. Risky pregnancy

In pregnancy it can have adverse effects on both mother and foetus. It increases the risk of maternal death, miscarriage, stillbirth, delivery of low birth-weight infants and neonatal death.

4. Anaemia

Malaria damages red blood cells, which can result in anaemia. When an infected mosquito bites you, the malaria parasites enter your blood and infect your red blood cells.

At the end of that infection cycle, the red blood cells rupture. This process lowers the amount of red blood cells and can in a severe stage cause severe anaemia.

5. Low blood sugar

Malaria parasites also are dependent on glucose as a nutrient source. Therefore, severe forms of malaria  can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). This can also be caused by quinine — one of the most common medications used to treat malaria.

Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.


  1. Sleeping under insecticide treatment bed nets
  2. Wearing clothing that covers most of the exposed skin and shoes that are closed to reduce the risk of mosquito bites.
  3. Apply insect repellent to all exposed skin.


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