Topic Overview

Life-threatening complications can develop with a
malaria infection, especially when a person is
infected by the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium (P.) falciparum.

When the parasite infects red blood cells, the cells stick to the
walls of blood vessels. As the blood vessels become blocked, blood supply to
vital organs stops, and the person may die without treatment.

Life-threatening situations because of malaria infection with
P. falciparum may include:

  • Severe infection of the brain (cerebral malaria),
    with seizures, confusion, and increasing tiredness leading to coma and
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
  • Kidney
  • Abnormal liver function.

  • Aplastic anemia
  • A low number of white blood
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).
  • Altered blood chemistry,
    including low sodium and lowered pH (lactic acidosis).
  • “Blackwater
    fever” (massive destruction of red blood cells, which causes dark-colored

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD – Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC – Infectious Disease

Current as ofMarch 3, 2017