Complications of malaria 

Malaria is a serious illness that can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated quickly. Pregnant women, babies, young children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

The Plasmodium falciparum parasite causes the most severe malaria symptoms and most deaths.

As complications of severe malaria can occur within hours or days of the first symptoms, it's important to seek urgent medical help as soon as possible.


The destruction of red blood cells by the malaria parasite can cause severe anaemia.

Anaemia is a condition where the red blood cells are unable to carry enough oxygen to the body's muscles and organs, leaving you feeling drowsy, weak and faint.

Cerebral malaria

In rare cases, malaria can affect the brain. This is known as cerebral malaria, which can cause your brain to swell, sometimes leading to permanent brain damage. It can also cause fits (seizures) or coma.

Other complications

Other complications that can arise as a result of severe malaria include:

Malaria in pregnancy

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women should avoid travelling to areas where there's a risk of malaria.

If you get malaria while pregnant, you and your baby have an increased risk of developing serious complications, such as:

Visit your GP if you're pregnant and travelling to a high-risk area. They may recommend taking antimalarial medication.

Read more about taking antimalarials while pregnant.

Page last reviewed: 27/11/2015

Next review due: 27/11/2017