Vaginal odor: What causes it?

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Vaginal odor: What causes it?

Question

What causes vaginal odor?

Jo
New Jersey

Answer

Vaginal odor has many possible causes.

The most common cause of vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis, resulting from an overgrowth of organisms normally present in the vagina. The odor — usually a "fishy" smell — may be more obvious after sexual intercourse. Other signs and symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include vaginal itching or irritation, and a grayish-whitish vaginal discharge. Treatment of bacterial vaginosis may include antibiotics.

Another common cause of vaginal odor is poor hygiene. It is a good idea to wash your external genital area during regular baths or showers. Use a very small amount of mild, unscented soap and lots of water. Douching isn't necessary. All healthy vaginas contain some bacteria and other organisms. The normal acidity of the vagina keeps bacteria and yeast in check. But douching can actually upset this delicate balance.

Other less common causes of vaginal odor include:

  • "Losing" a tampon in your vagina. This occurs when a tampon rises to the upper part of the vagina and lodges there. A forgotten tampon can result in a vaginal infection, which can produce an unpleasant odor.
  • Rectovaginal fistula. Trauma during childbirth may lead to a rectovaginal fistula — an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina. This allows feces to leak into the vagina, producing a fecal odor.
  • Cancer of the cervix or vagina.

If vaginal odor persists, consult your doctor.

Last Updated: 04/24/2007
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