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Malaria: Life-Threatening Complications - 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.

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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 death.
  • Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
  • Kidney failure.
  • Abnormal liver function.
  • Aplastic anemia.
  • A low number of white blood cells.
  • 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 urine).

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: April 11, 2013
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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