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Vaginal Odor

What is unusual vaginal odor?

Similar to vaginal discharge, vaginal odor is normal until it changes. These changes are considered abnormal or unusual because they are typically negative changes. For instance, all vaginas have a natural scent, but if the vagina’s usual odor becomes unpleasant or smelly, it is an indicator that something is wrong. Typically, unusual vaginal odor stems from vaginal discharge that is being caused by some sort of infection. It is rarely the only symptom that something is not right. It may seem like a good idea to use feminine sprays or washes to get rid of the odor or mask it, but typically these products irritate this sensitive area which can make symptoms worse.

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Common causes of unusual or abnormal vaginal odor:

  • Menstrual cycle
  • Poor or inadequate hygiene
  • Trichomoniasis (an STD caused by parasitic protozoans)
  • Irritation due to douching
  • A forgotten tampon that was left in for too long
  • Allergic reaction to scented lotions or soaps
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) or vaginitis
  • Yeast infections

Less common causes of unusual or abnormal vaginal odor:

  • Cervical cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Rectovaginal fistula (a serious condition in which there is a tear between the rectum and vagina. This can allows feces and gas to leak into the vagina, causing the odor.)

Vaginal odor may be:

  • “Fishy” smelling
  • Unpleasant smelling

Which STDs can cause vaginal odor?

Typically the same ones that cause abnormal discharge: Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the STDs most commonly associated with vaginal discharge, especially bloody discharge. Chlamydia is the most common STD among women, and gonorrhea often occurs with chlamydia in what is known as a co-infection. Both are easily treated by antibiotics (a single dose if caught early enough), but can cause very serious long-term side effects if left untreated.

Trichomoniasis, an STD caused by a protozoan parasite, is also commonly associated with vaginal discharge with a strong, unpleasant odor.

Getting tested is the first step in determining whether an STD is the cause of abnormal or unusual vaginal odor. Frequent STD testing also prevents the progression of STDs that may be present, but not showing symptoms.

  1. "Vaginal Odor: Possible Causes - What causes vaginal odor?" Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17905-vaginal-odor/possible-causes
  2. "Diseases Characterized By Vaginal Discharge - 2015 Std Treatment Guidelines." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/vaginal-discharge.htm
  3. "Maintaining Vaginal Health." Cornell Health. https://health.cornell.edu/sites/health/files/pdf-library/Maintaining-Vaginal-Health.pdf
  4. "Vaginal Itching and Discharge - Adult and Adolescent." Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003158.htm

Medically Reviewed by on Jun 18, 2019

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