Health information

What diseases can be recognized by smell

Not only eaten garlic or uncleaned teeth can cause bad breath. Many diseases also have their own characteristic aroma. The fact that some ailments can be recognized by stench was known by Hippocrates. For example, in liver diseases, a specific sweetish sugary smell of urea is felt. Along with the smell of exhaled air, the usual aroma of the body and all body fluids can change. Such changes can be a sign of metabolic disorders, diseases of the digestive or respiratory systems, malignant diseases, and even Alzheimer's disease. By the way, back in ancient times, doctors considered odor as one of the diagnostic methods. Nowadays, scientists are actively working on the creation of the so-called artificial nose - a device that, according to the aroma of the body and human secretions, can suggest the type of disease. Therefore, experts are increasingly urging more attentive to changes in the aroma of their body and loved ones.

What is body odor?

Each person has his own unique aroma and during life he can change. The way we smell depends on the skin glands, including sweat and sebaceous glands, on the activity of bacteria that live on the surface of the body, as well as on what we eat, drink, smoke, and what medicines we take. Nevertheless, there are many specific odors that can appear regardless of age or lifestyle and are a signal that it is time to visit a doctor.

The aroma of the body is a rather complex and multicomponent mixture of compounds. But if a person observes basic hygiene rules, then the natural aroma of his body is barely perceptible. Patients are a different matter. And this is not so much about the moments of self-care, but about the chemistry of the body. It is proved that infection, penetrating the human body, is able to change its aroma.

Depending on the condition, the stench can come from different parts of the body - from the legs to the head. Sometimes it can be caused by a local problem, in other cases it can be systemic. For example, the cause of bad breath may not be the oral cavity.

Smell and immune system

According to scientific studies, in people whose immune system fights against pathogens, the body acquires a pronounced specific aroma. Moreover, it begins to appear only 4 hours after the reaction of the immune system to the pathogen. That is, the body of the same person in a healthy state and during an illness smells differently.

One of the reasons for this, according to experts, is specific substances that penetrate the blood when the immune system is activated. Moreover, scientists found that the stronger the patient’s immune response, the more unpleasant the smell of sweat. Different diseases and conditions have their own unique specific aroma. For example, with scrofula, a smell resembling stale beer appears, the smell of acetone can be caught in diabetes mellitus, starvation or thyrotoxicosis, in typhoid fever - bread aroma, in diphtheria - sweet and putrid. The body of a person with diabetic ketosis smells like decaying apples, and when you are unable to metabolize methionine, the aroma of boiled cabbage appears.

In addition, the researchers found that various volatile substances form in the bodies of people with cancer: alkanes, formaldehyde, pentane and benzene derivatives, which affect the body’s aroma, changing it to the way it smells like missing meat.

What the smell will tell ...

... sweat

We all know how unpleasant it is to be near a person who sweats a lot. Especially if his sweat smells very badly.

Acrid stench. Unfortunately, at certain periods of life, even a healthy person can sweat more than usual and the secret of sweat glands at this time has a sharp aroma. This applies to adolescents during puberty, as well as women during menopause. In this case, sweating is caused by a change in hormonal levels. But in other periods of life, a very sharp smell of sweat should be alarming. This can be caused by either a specific diet or health problems. A pungent odor may indicate hyperthyroidism. In this case, the stench is most trapped under the armpits and in the genital area.

Sheep's wool. In a person suffering from hyperfunction of the adrenal glands, the body acquires an aroma similar to the smell of fleece.

Acetone. If the aroma of the body resembles acetone, this may indicate liver disease, endocrine disorders, lack of carbohydrates in the diet, infection with viruses or bacteria. But still, the most common cause of the acetone body odor is diabetes. What is the relationship between acetone and diabetes? When the body lacks insulin, and this is what happens in diabetes, glucose accumulates in the tissues, which in turn leads to an excess of ketone bodies. They are excreted in the urine and sweat. And it is these substances that give the secret a sharp acetone odor.
If the smell of acetone is accompanied by insomnia or constant drowsiness and loss of strength, loss of appetite, then perhaps there is a thyroid gland dysfunction.
The smell of vinegar. If a person sweats heavily and at the same time the smell of sweat resembles vinegar, this may indicate endocrine problems, infectious and inflammatory diseases, mastopathy, vitamin B or D deficiency, iodine deficiency. And if, in addition to a strange aroma, cough, fever and weakness appeared, this can indicate the development of tuberculosis.

The smell of urea. If a characteristic smell of urea is clearly captured from a person, this can be taken as a signal about the occurrence of insufficiency of kidney function, with the manifestation of uremia - the accumulation of nitrogenous wastes in the blood, which cause the smell of uremia from the body and during breathing.

Honey aroma. The sweet, honey-like scent of the body is a very alarming signal. Such changes may indicate the presence in the body of Pseudomonas aeruginosa - one of the most dangerous infections. It causes diseases of the respiratory tract, otitis media, inflammation of the sinuses, promotes abscesses and purulent processes in wounds, and can also cause meningitis. But the most dangerous thing is that some strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa are resistant to antibiotics. Therefore, the honey aroma of sweat requires immediate medical attention.

… from mouth

Bad breath can be the result of improper oral hygiene, bacterial infection, caries. However, it happens that it is impossible to get rid of the smell, despite a thorough brushing of the teeth or antibiotic treatment. In this case, it is important to pay attention to exactly what the exhaled air smells like.

Acetone? This is a sign that it is time to consult a doctor and check the level of sugar in the blood and ketone bodies in the urine. The sweet-acetone odor, reminiscent of fermented apples, is often a symptom of ketoacidosis, which can occur in diabetes mellitus. Sometimes the acetone smell when breathing can also occur in people who are losing weight intensively on a low-carb diet.

Does the exhaled breath have a musty and sweet smell? This may be a sign of liver failure. If ammonia is felt from the mouth, this is a symptom of kidney failure. If the exhaled air smells like sulfur or rotten cabbage, this may indicate the presence in the stomach of the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which causes diseases of the digestive tract.

A musty smell combined with heartburn and an unpleasant aftertaste in the mouth is the most common symptom of stomach problems. This may be a manifestation of gastroesophageal reflux. If an unpleasant odor accompanies abdominal pain, you should check for a stomach ulcer or duodenal ulcer.

... intimate area

An unpleasant odor of the genitals can also indicate health problems that require treatment. In particular, for women, the smell of spoiled fish may be an alarm. The reason for this is not poor hygiene, but a bacterial vaginal infection, which can be eliminated only by performing the appointment of a treating gynecologist. Another dangerous signal is the smell of yeast. In this case, the risk of fungal disease is high. It is impossible to ignore the appearance of a specific smell in the intimate zone. It may indicate cervicitis, sexually transmitted or even cancer.

... feet

The feet of a healthy, hygienic person should not smell bad. Unless he wears shoes made of artificial materials or unsuitable socks. But if a person follows all the rules, but the smell still appears, then it's time to contact a dermatologist. As a rule, this symptom indicates mycosis - a fungal disease of the legs.

... excrement

Metabolism products do not have a pleasant aroma and this is quite natural. But if the stool acquires a distinctly acidic smell (especially when paired with diarrhea, bloating), there is a high risk of lactose intolerance. This means that the body produces too little lactase, the digestive enzyme necessary for the proper breakdown of lactose contained in dairy products. Undigested dairy products begin to ferment in the intestines, forming gases and acids, which cause a specific stool odor.

... urine

The very pungent smell of urine should also alert. If ammonia is felt in it, this may indicate a urinary tract infection, such as cystitis or kidney disease. If the urine smells of acetone, then, as is the case with breathing, this is most likely a sign of ketoacidosis. This is a rather dangerous condition that can lead to a coma. Acetone odor in the urine may occur due to starvation, a low-carb diet, hyperthyroidism, prolonged vomiting, or diarrhea. In any case, the unnatural smell of urine is an occasion to undergo a medical examination.

Animals and electronic noses - new diagnostic methods

It is well known that in animals the ability to recognize aromas is much more developed than in humans. In addition, today, experts are increasingly diagnosing a violation of olfactory function in people. Therefore, in recent years, animals have been involved in the study of the aromas of the human body. It turned out that dogs can smell cancer patients by smell. The accuracy of such an unusual “diagnosis” in different cases ranged from 68 to 90 percent. Interestingly, some dogs by smell identified patients with initial stage oncology. But laboratory rats, as it turned out, easily detect the smell of tuberculosis.

But nevertheless, scientists put more hopes on the so-called electronic (artificial) noses. These devices allow you to detect and recognize a number of specific flavors. Most of these devices have a sensor matrix that comes into contact with volatile compounds, causing changes to the sensors. Scientists have already managed to test this device to detect lung cancer, brain tumors, kidney disease, intestines and diabetes in patients.

Disease Odor Table
Source of smellSmellWhat could mean
Breath bodyAmmoniaUremia, urinary incontinence, ammonia poisoning
Acetone, rotten applesKetoacidosis, poisoning with acetone or solvent for paints and varnishes
Boiled cabbageTyrosinemia
Rotten radishDerivative poisoning
Bitter almondsHydrocyanic acid or cyanide poisoning
PearChloral Hydrate Poisoning
ChlorinePoisoning with phenol, carbolic or sulfuric acid compounds
OzonePotassium permanganate poisoning
SauerkrautCrust scabies
HorsePenicillin or its derivatives poisoning
HoneyPseudomonas infection
MentholMenovazine or menthol alcohol poisoning
Sheep woolCushing's Disease
Raw liverLiver failure
Sweaty feet (in infants)Glutaric Acidemia
Burnt meatKlebsiella pneumonia
SugaryToxic diphtheria pharynx
Creams or paints for bootsNitrobenzene poisoning
Resinous, turpentineTurpentine poisoning
Sweet liquorDichloroethane poisoning
Sweet alcoholEthylene glycol poisoning (brake fluid)
CheesyIzovalerianova Acidemia
Rotten eggsExcess in the body of hydrogen sulfide, carbon disulfide, mercaptans, putrefactive dyspepsia
AceticAcetaldehyde Poisoning
Persistent halitosisHalitosis
GarlicPoisoning with phosphorus, tellurium, arsenic or their compounds
EtherealPoisoning with ethylene oxide, ethylene chlorohydrin, ethers
Urine (usually not pronounced)AmmoniaBacterial disease, cystitis
Caramel and MaltMaple Syrup Disease
Rotting applesExcess ketone bodies, ketoacidosis
Feline excrementMetabolic disorder, beta-methylcrotonylglycinuria
Musty, mousePhenylketonuria
CheesyIzovalerianova Acidemia
VioletsTurpentine poisoning
Rotten meatBladder cancer or other diseases that cause rotting of the urine
HopsMetabolic disorder, hop dryer disease
Sputum (usually odorless)FetidAbscess, bronchiectasis, tissue decomposition caused by cancer or gangrene
Feces (the smell depends on the food consumed and the digestive tract)Rotten eggsPoisoning with carbon disulfide, hydrogen sulfide, mercaptans, putrefactive dyspepsia
SourFermentation in the digestive tract
Fishy, ​​sweetishCholera
Leucorrhoea (female genital discharge, usually odorless)FishGardnerellosis
Lochia (postpartum discharge in women, usually smell of pretty leaves)Any change in smellInfectious complications

A strange smell is not always a sign of illness.

It would be a mistake to say that an unusual aroma of the body can occur solely due to illness. Often odors uncharacteristic for the body may be the result of consuming certain foods. But in this case, the stench persists for a relatively short time, while the changes caused by the disease are stable.

So, one of the most common causes of an unpleasant sweat smell is spices - garlic, onions, hot spices, curry. Red meat and some very spicy herbs also have the ability to impart a specific aroma to a body odor. Fans of coffee, strong tea, chocolate, alcoholic drinks and sugary soda should be prepared for the fact that abuse of these products can also lead to increased sweating and the unpleasant odor of biological fluids.
Everyone who decides to switch to a low-carb diet should understand that this principle of nutrition will not only affect the figure (help to lose weight), but also cause changes in body odors. Low carbohydrate nutrition causes an increase in ketone bodies in the body, which can cause the smell of acetone. Frequent consumption of dairy products in large quantities increases the levels of hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan in the body, which can also trigger the formation of an unpleasant odor. And of course, smoking affects the body aroma, which is why all smokers smell very specific.And this is not about clothes soaked in cigarette smoke, but about changes in the smell of sweat itself.
Diseases manifest themselves in different ways. One of the most common signs that something is wrong in the body is pain. But this is not the only symptom. Some diseases can be recognized by the smell, usually unpleasant. What diseases and smells should alert you, you already know.

The author of the article:
Medvedeva Larisa Anatolyevna

Specialty: therapist, nephrologist.

Total experience: 18 years.

Place of work: Novorossiysk, medical center "Nefros".

Education: 1994-2000 Stavropol State Medical Academy.


  1. 2014 - "Therapy" full-time continuing education courses on the basis of the Kuban State Medical University.
  2. 2014 - "Nephrology" full-time continuing education courses on the basis of GBOUVPO "Stavropol State Medical University".
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