BACKGROUND: Malaria, both with or without convulsions, is a serious hardship for people living in endemic areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Community references to malaria, however, may encompass other conditions, which was collectively designated malaria-related illness (MRI). Inasmuch as the presence or absence of convulsions reportedly affects timely help-seeking for malaria, a local comparison of these conditions is needed to inform malaria control. METHODS: Vignette-based EMIC interviews (insider-perspective interviews) for MRI with convulsions (convulsion positive, MRI-CP) and without convulsions (convulsion negative, MRI-CN) were developed to study relevant features of MRI-related experience, meaning and behaviour in two rural communities in Ghana. These semi-structured interviews elicited both qualitative narrative and categorical codes for quantitative analysis. Interviews with 201 respondents were conducted. RESULTS: The conditions depicted in the vignettes were well recognized by respondents and named with various local terms. Both presentations were considered serious, but MRI-CP was more frequently regarded potentially fatal than MRI-CN. More than 90.0% of respondents in both groups acknowledged the need to seek outside help. However, significantly more respondents advised appropriate help-seeking within 24 (p = 0.01) and 48 (p = 0.01) hours for MRI-CP. Over 50.0% of respondents responding to questions about MRI-CP identified MRI-CN as a cause of convulsions. CONCLUSION: Local comparison of MRI-CP and MRI-CN based on vignettes found a similar profile of reported categories of perceived causes, patterns of distress, help-seeking and preventive measures for both presentations. This differs from previous findings in sub-Saharan Africa, which assert communities regard the two conditions to be unrelated. The perceived relationships should be acknowledged in formulating strategies to control malaria through timely help-seeking and treatment to reduce childhood mortality.