Ask Difference

Lethargy vs. Malaise — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on March 24, 2024
Lethargy describes a state of tiredness or a lack of energy, while malaise refers to a general feeling of discomfort or unease without a specific cause.
Lethargy vs. Malaise — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Lethargy and Malaise


Key Differences

Lethargy is characterized by a profound lack of energy or enthusiasm for activities, often described as a state of sluggishness or fatigue that can be physical or mental. Individuals experiencing lethargy may find it hard to start or complete tasks due to this overwhelming sense of tiredness. Whereas, malaise is a more generalized feeling of discomfort, uneasiness, or being unwell, often signifying the onset of an illness or a state of dissatisfaction with life circumstances, without the pinpointed physical exhaustion that defines lethargy.
While lethargy can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, ranging from sleep disorders to more serious health issues like hypothyroidism or depression, it is primarily associated with a physical or mental state that specifically limits energy and activity levels. Malaise, on the other hand, may not always have a clear medical origin and can be a precursor to more identifiable symptoms, acting as an early warning sign of systemic or psychological issues.
In terms of diagnosis and treatment, lethargy is often approached with the aim of identifying underlying physical or psychological causes that can be treated or managed. This might involve lifestyle changes, medication, or therapy. Malaise, due to its vague and encompassing nature, requires a broader diagnostic approach to pinpoint its root, often involving a combination of medical history, physical exams, and possibly extensive testing to identify underlying conditions.
Socially and personally, lethargy can significantly impact daily functioning, making routine tasks and engagements challenging. It is often more visibly recognized by others due to its direct effects on an individual's activity levels and responsiveness. Conversely, malaise might be more difficult for others to detect, as it encompasses a broader range of subjective feelings of unwellness that are not always outwardly observable.
Although both terms describe states that can significantly affect an individual's quality of life, it is important to recognize that lethargy and malaise are not mutually exclusive and can coexist. For instance, a person experiencing malaise due to an undiagnosed medical condition might also exhibit lethargy as a symptom, further complicating their overall sense of well-being.

Comparison Chart


A state of tiredness and lack of energy.
A generalized feeling of discomfort or unease.


Physical or mental energy levels.
Overall sense of well-being.


Fatigue, sluggishness, lack of enthusiasm.
Discomfort, uneasiness, feeling unwell without a specific cause.


Sleep disorders, depression, medical conditions.
Precursor to illness, psychological distress.


Identifying underlying causes; may involve lifestyle assessment, medication, therapy.
Broad diagnostic approach; may require extensive testing.

Social Impact

Impacts daily functioning and engagement.
May not be visibly recognized; affects overall quality of life.

Compare with Definitions


The patient's lethargy made it difficult for her to even get out of bed.


Early Warning Sign.
The malaise turned out to be the early warning sign of an impending flu.


Treatment Focused.
Treatment for lethargy often involves addressing the underlying health issues.


Diagnostic Challenge.
Pinpointing the cause of malaise can be a diagnostic challenge due to its vague symptoms.


Daily Impact.
Her lethargy was so severe that it affected her work and social life.


General Discomfort.
He described a pervasive sense of malaise, with no apparent illness.


Lack of Energy.
Despite a full night's sleep, he felt a deep sense of lethargy throughout the day.


Psychological Distress.
She experienced malaise during periods of intense stress at work.


Physical and Mental State.
Lethargy can manifest both physically and mentally, draining motivation.


Subjective Feeling.
Malaise is often a subjective feeling, making it hard to describe to others.


Lethargy is a state of tiredness, weariness, fatigue, or lack of energy. It can be accompanied by depression, decreased motivation, or apathy.


As a medical term, malaise is a feeling of general discomfort, uneasiness, or pain, and often the first sign of an infection or other disease. The word has existed in French since at least the 12th century.


A lack of energy or vigor; sluggishness.


A vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness.


A lack of interest or enthusiasm; apathy
Held a pep rally to shake the students out of their lethargy.


A general sense of depression or unease
"The markets remain mired in a deep malaise" (New York Times).


(Medicine) An abnormal state of drowsiness, as caused by disease or drugs.


A feeling of general bodily discomfort, fatigue or unpleasantness, often at the onset of illness.


A state of extreme torpor or apathy, especially with lack of emotion, energy or enthusiasm; (loosely) sluggishness, laziness.


An ambiguous feeling of mental or moral depression.


(pathology) A condition characterized by extreme fatigue or drowsiness, deep unresponsiveness, or prolonged sleep patterns.


Ill will or hurtful feelings for others or someone.


Morbid drowsiness; continued or profound sleep, from which a person can scarcely be awaked.


An indefinite feeling of uneasiness, or of being sick or ill at ease.


A state of inaction or indifference.
Europe lay then under a deep lethargy.


Physical discomfort (as mild sickness or depression)


To lethargize.


A state of comatose torpor (as found in sleeping sickness)


Weakness characterized by a lack of vitality or energy


Inactivity; showing an unusual lack of energy

Common Curiosities

Can lifestyle changes help alleviate lethargy and malaise?

Yes, lifestyle adjustments can help, but it's crucial to address any underlying causes.

What causes lethargy?

Causes include sleep disorders, medical conditions, and mental health issues.

How is malaise diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves a comprehensive approach, considering medical history and symptoms.

What is the main difference between lethargy and malaise?

Lethargy is a specific lack of energy, while malaise is a vague feeling of discomfort.

Why is malaise challenging to diagnose?

Its symptoms are broad and nonspecific, making it hard to pinpoint a single cause.

Can lethargy and malaise occur together?

Yes, they can coexist, especially if an underlying condition affects overall well-being.

How do physical illnesses manifest as malaise?

Many illnesses begin with malaise as the body responds to infection or disease.

Can depression cause lethargy or malaise?

Yes, depression can lead to both lethargy and malaise among other symptoms.

How do sleep patterns affect lethargy?

Poor sleep quality or disorders can significantly contribute to feelings of lethargy.

What are the first steps in addressing lethargy or malaise?

Consult a healthcare provider to assess symptoms and potential underlying causes.

Is it normal to experience periodic lethargy or malaise?

Occasional feelings might be normal, but persistent symptoms warrant medical attention.

Can improving diet affect lethargy or malaise?

Yes, nutritional imbalances can contribute to these conditions, and dietary improvements can help.

Is malaise always a sign of illness?

Not always, but it can be an early indicator of physical or psychological issues.

How do you treat lethargy?

Treatment depends on the cause and may include medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes.

Can malaise be psychological?

Yes, stress, anxiety, and depression can manifest as malaise.

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Previous Comparison
Canal vs. River
Next Comparison
Structure vs. System

Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms