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Types of Vaginal Odors

By Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell ; Updated August 14, 2017

Unpleasant vaginal odor is not an uncommon problem for women. It is frequently due to an overgrowth of vaginal organisms. The unpleasant smell is often most noticeable following sexual relations and may be accompanied by vaginal itching, irritation and discharge. There are a number of possible causes of vaginal odor.

Bacterial Vaginosis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bacterial vaginosis (BV), also known as bacterial overgrowth, is the number-one cause of vaginal odor in premenopausal women. Bacterial vaginosis produces a fishy-smelling vaginal discharge that’s due to an excessive growth of normal vaginal bacteria. The cause of BV remains unclear, but it appears douching and /or having a new sexual partner or multiple sex partners may place women at a higher risk.

Vulvovaginitis

Vulvovaginitis is another very common reason for vaginal odor. Vulvovaginitis is an infection or inflammation of the vagina and vulva (external parts of the female genitalia). It can be caused by certain sexually transmitted diseases as well as allergens, bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and simple poor hygiene.

Other Common Causes

There are a number of other reasons for vaginal odor. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the reproductive organs that typically develops when sexually transmitted bacteria travels from the vagina into the upper genital tract. The symptoms of PID include an unpleasant odor and vaginal discharge.

Yeast infections, chlaymdia (bacterial infection that spreads via sexual contact) and the sexually transmitted bacterium gonorrhea can all produce a vaginal odor.

Uncommon Causes

In rare cases an irregular connection between your rectum and vagina (rectovaginal fistula) can cause the contents of your bowels to seep from the fistula and, as a result, gas or stool may pass through your vagina. Both cervical and vaginal cancer can cause a displeasing odor. A tampon inadvertently left in your vagina also will cause a foul odor.

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