The symptoms of malaria typically develop within 10 days to four weeks following the infection. In some cases, symptoms may not develop for several months. Some malarial parasites can enter the body but will be dormant for long periods of time. Common symptoms of malaria include:
- shaking chills that can range from moderate to severe
- high fever
- profuse sweating
- abdominal pain
- muscle pain
- bloody stools
How is malaria diagnosed?
Your doctor will be able to diagnose malaria. During your appointment, your doctor will review your health history, including any recent travel to tropical climates. A physical exam will also be performed. Your doctor will be able to determine if you have an enlarged spleen or liver. If you have symptoms of malaria, your doctor may order additional blood tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests will show:
- whether you have malaria
- what type of malaria you have
- if your infection is caused by a parasite that’s resistant to certain types of drugs
- if the disease has caused anemia
- if the disease has affected your vital organs
Life-threatening complications of malaria
Malaria can cause a number of life-threatening complications. The following may occur:
- swelling of the blood vessels of the brain, or cerebral malaria
- an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that causes breathing problems, or pulmonary edema
- organ failure of the kidneys, liver, or spleen
- anemia due to the destruction of red blood cells
- low blood sugar
How is malaria treated?
Malaria can be a life-threatening condition, especially if you have P. falciparum. Treatment for the disease is typically provided in a hospital. Your doctor will prescribe medications based on the type of parasite that you have. In some instances, the medication prescribed may not clear the infection because of parasite resistance to drugs. If this occurs, your doctor may need to use more than one medication or change medications altogether to treat your condition. Additionally, certain types of malaria, such as P. vivax and P. ovale, have liver stages where the parasite can live in your body for an extended period of time and reactivate at a later date causing a relapse of the infection. If you are found to have one of these types of malaria, you will be given a second medication to prevent a relapse in the future.
What is the long-term outlook for people with malaria?
People with malaria who receive treatment typically have a good long-term outlook. If complications arise as a result of malaria, the outlook may not be as good. Cerebral malaria, which causes swelling of the blood vessels of the brain, can result in brain damage. The long-term outlook for patients with drug-resistant parasites may also be poor. In these patients, malaria may recur. This may cause other complications.