What is vaginal odor?

A woman’s vagina normally has a mild odor, but inflammation or infection of the vagina or cervix can result in an unusually strong, persistent or bad vaginal smell that is often described as a fish-like odor.

Vaginal odor can result from a variety of conditions and diseases that include:

  • Overgrowth and imbalance of certain microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast that normally live in the vagina in a certain balance. This is called bacterial vaginosis.

  • Sexually transmitted diseases

The most common cause of vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is characterized by an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vagina. In most cases, BV does not lead to complications, but it can increase a woman’s chances of developing a sexually transmitted disease. In addition, a pregnant woman with BV has an increased chance of pregnancy complications.

Making a diagnosis of the underlying cause of vaginal odor includes taking a medical and sexual history and completing a physical and pelvic exam. During a pelvic examination, your health care practitioner will examine the external genitalia and gently open the vagina with a smooth instrument called a speculum in order to view the vagina and cervix. Your health care practitioner will also take a small sample of cells to determine if an infection is present and to identify the type of infectious organism.

Vaginal odor is treatable. Good hygiene practices, including daily washing of the genitals with mild soap and water can help to minimize vaginal odor but will not cure vaginal odor caused by sexually transmitted diseases or other types of infections. Treatment of vaginal odor caused by disease or infection varies and is tailored to the underlying cause and the presence of any complications.

Some types of vaginal odor can be caused by serious conditions, such as sexually transmitted diseases. Seek prompt medical care if you experience any vaginal odor that is unusually strong or persistent or occurs with heavy or unusual vaginal discharge. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have heavy vaginal bleeding or bleeding during pregnancy. Early diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes of vaginal odor reduce the risk of potential complications, such as infertility.


What other symptoms might occur with vaginal odor?

Abnormal vaginal odor is often described as a strong fish-like smell that may become worse or more noticeable after sexual intercourse. Vaginal odor may occur with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, vaginal odor due to an infection that causes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) may occur with Read more about vaginal odorsymptoms


What causes vaginal odor?

Unusually strong or persistent vaginal odor can be caused by a variety of diseases, disorders or conditions that affect the vagina, cervix, and other reproductive organs. Vaginal odor is commonly caused by an infection or inflammation of the vagina (vaginitis) or cervix (cervicitis). Vaginitis and cervicitis can be caused... Read more about vaginal odorcauses

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 11, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.