What causes stool odor?
Many different diseases, disorders and conditions can lead to foul-smelling stools. Foul-smelling stools can be a sign of inflammatory disorders, intestinal infections, malabsorption disorders, and inherited medical conditions.
Infectious causes of stool odor
Foul-smelling stools may arise from intestinal infections caused by viruses, bacteria and parasites including:
Clostridium difficile bacteria
E. coli bacteria
Inflammatory causes of stool odor
Inflammatory causes of foul-smelling stools include:
Chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the intestine)
Malabsorptive causes of stool odor
Foul-smelling stools may arise from malabsorption disorders in which your body does not absorb nutrients from food efficiently. Malabsorption disorders include:
Celiac disease (severe sensitivity to gluten from wheat and other grains that causes intestinal damage)
Short bowel syndrome (nutrients are not absorbed due to intestinal disease or surgery)
Inherited causes of stool odor
Foul-smelling stool is one possible symptom of cystic fibrosis, which is an inherited condition that causes thick mucus buildup in the lungs and digestive tract. Although most people with the disease are diagnosed before age two, some people are not diagnosed until young adulthood.
Serious or life-threatening causes of stool odor
In some cases, foul-smelling stools may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
Questions for diagnosing the cause of stool odor
To diagnose the underlying cause of foul-smelling stool, your doctor or licensed healthcare provider may ask you several questions related to your symptoms. You can best help your healthcare provider in diagnosing the underlying cause of your stool odor by providing complete answers to these questions:
When did your stool odor start?
What color are your stools? Are they lighter or darker than normal?
Do you have difficulty pushing or moving your stools?
What is your current diet? Have you made any recent changes in your diet?
Do you notice a change in your stool odor with any particular foods or drinks?
What are your other symptoms?
Your healthcare provider may request a stool sample to help in diagnosing the underlying cause of your stool odor.
What are the potential complications of stool odor?
Complications of foul-smelling stool depend on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Identifying and treating the underlying cause of stool odor is important to minimize any potential complications. Because foul-smelling stool can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan you and your healthcare professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
Dehydration due to a decreased desire to drink fluids
Loss of appetite
Poor nutrition due to a decreased desire to eat
- Abdominal Pain, Long-Term. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/528.html.
- Celiac disease - sprue. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000233.htm.
- Chronic pancreatitis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000221.htm.
- Crohn’s disease. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000249.htm.
- Gastrointestinal infections and Diarrhea. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/teen/infections/bacterial_viral/diarrhea.html#.
- Malabsorption. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000299.htm.
- Short bowel syndrome. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000237.htm.
- Stools- foul-smelling. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003132.htm.
What is stool odor?
Stool odor is the smell associated with stools, or bowel movements. Stools normally have an unpleasant odor.
Stools are formed in the large intestine (colon), which is part of the digestive system. Normally, “good bacteria” live in your large intestine and help digest or break down the food remnants that enter the large intestine from the small intestine. Stools are formed during ... Read more about stool odorintroduction
What other symptoms might occur with stool odor?
Foul-smelling stools may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms frequently affect the digestive tract but may also involve other body systems.