Smelly Poop Is NBD Unless You Have One Of These Other Symptoms

Smelly Poop Is NBD Unless You Have One Of These Other Symptoms

It’s a given that your stool is never going to smell like roses. Still, if you're wondering, Why does my poop smell so bad? you shouldn't simply dismiss the thought and carry on business as usual. A particularly bad odor can sometimes be a sign that something is off with your health.

But it's worth stating upfront that stinky poo is not necessarily a reason to panic. "Before you go running to your nearest emergency room, evaluate your diet, medications, and risk for getting a stool infection or bleeding," says Tamika Jaswani, MD, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas.

And taking a step back to the basics for a moment, poop is “a bodily waste that is passed through the gastrointestinal tract and is made up of water, dead microorganisms, undigestible food matter, and some fats and cholesterol, in addition to several other minor components,” says gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, MD.

The natural smell of your poop usually comes from the undigested food mixed with the gas produced by the bacteria in your gut, says Seyedehsan Navabi, MD, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Hydrogen sulfide, methyl sulfides, and benzopyrrole volatiles are among the most common gases behind that odor.

Catching the occasional funny waft after using the bathroom is normal. However, if it becomes a more frequent occurrence, you may want to look into it. Here, gastroenterologists break down all the possible causes of foul-smelling poo, and when it’s time to see a doctor about it.

Meet the experts: Tamika Jaswani is a gastroenterologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas. Marvin Singh is a gastroenterologist based in California. Seyedehsan Navabi is an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

What causes smelly poop?

There are actually a lot of potential things you can point a finger at, with some being more of a big deal for your health than others.

1. You’re taking antibiotics.

Your gut has what’s known as a bacterial flora, which is a collection of microorganisms that help break down your food. But, when you take antibiotics, it can tweak your bacterial flora “which leads to different byproduct,” says Aniqa Kohen, MD, a gastroenterologist at Prisma Health. That change in bacteria can cause a change in smell, too.

2. You have an infection.

An infection can also mess with the bacteria in your gut. “Different bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections can affect the digestive tract,” Dr. Navabi says. While they might cause diarrhea, they can also change the gas in your poop and create a smelly odor, he says.

3. You have a food intolerance or allergy.

When you have a food intolerance or allergy, your body can’t properly process a particular ingredient, Dr. Singh says. The combination of gas produced by bacteria that try to break it down and undigested food can lead to a stinky smell. It can also cause you to have stomach cramps and sometimes bleeding.

4. You have celiac disease.

Having celiac disease means that your body has an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, and attacks the lining of the small intestine, Dr. Navabi explains. That damage to the lining of the gut can make it difficult to absorb nutrients and, as a result, you end up with symptoms like diarrhea or constipation, bloating, gas, stomach pain, and greasy, smelly poop.

5. You have inflammatory bowel disease.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used to describe several autoimmune conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Inflammation of the colon with ulcerative colitis can alter bacteria in the gut and cause bleeding—and both can lead to strong-smelling Number Two, Dr. Navabi says. Crohn’s disease can cause similar issues, along with difficulty absorbing nutrients, and that can also lead to stinky poop, he says. IBD as a whole can cause uncomfortable symptoms like diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

6. Your body isn’t absorbing your food properly.

There are a lot of things that can lead to your body not absorbing nutrients properly (a.k.a. malabsorption), Dr. Kohen says—an infection, gluten allergy, gut inflammation, and several syndromes. “Any time chronic inflammation occurs in the gut, it can alter the balance of the bacteria,” Dr. Navabi says. And that can add more gas to your poop. Cue the stink.

7. You have Clostridioides difficile (C. diff).

Clostridioides difficile is a contagious stool infection that leads to inflammation in the colon, says Dr. Jaswani. Most cases stem from taking antibiotics or occur not long after you’ve finished taking antibiotics, according to the CDC.

C. diff is spread through skin-to-skin contact, so washing your hands after you use the bathroom is an essential part of minimizing your risk of spreading it. Along with smelly stool, other symptoms include watery stool, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and abnormal heartbeat, per the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

8. You have cancer.

This is a rare but important one to mention. "Changes in the microbiome of the colon in the presence of colon cancer or advanced polyps can change the gas composition in our stool," explains Dr. Jaswani. The result? An abnormal stench from the toilet bowl.

Note that while it's the third most cancer diagnosed in the U.S., colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is much more common after you turn 50, according to the American Cancer Society. And getting regular screenings starting at age 45 can help you spot polyps and have them removed before they turn into cancer. It tends to run in families, so chat with your doctor about your risk if your parents or siblings have it.

9. You have gastrointestinal bleeding.

There's a big difference between the blood you might smell in your stool versus digested blood because of the odor, according to Dr. Jaswani. If your poop is black, sticky, or tarry, it may be an indication that you're bleeding in your GI tract.

But this isn't the same as what you might see if you eat spinach or take medications such as bismuth or oral iron. "Blood from your upper GI tract mixes with digestive enzymes in your stomach and becomes altered by gut bacteria, creating the smell," says Dr. Jaswani.

When should I see a doctor for super smelly poop?

Any time things seem off down there and they don’t go away after a few days or seem to be getting worse, it’s a good idea to call your doctor. But you should call sooner rather than later if you have any of the following along with your persistently smelly poop, Dr. Kohen says.

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Blood in your poop

  • A family history of cancer or IBD

  • Fever

  • Chills

  • Joint swelling

  • Ulcers in your mouth

  • Pain around your eyes

  • Waking up at night to poop

  • You can’t get relief from over-the-counter medications

How can I avoid smelly poops?

If your smelly poop doesn’t seem to be linked to something serious, like GI bleeding, and you’re not having other severe symptoms, there are a few things you can do.

  • Take a closer look at your diet. If you’ve been eating a lot of garlic or onions lately, that could definitely be the culprit. But sometimes it can be a little harder to know what’s leading to that smell. “Often keeping a food diary might help you figure out what foods upset your gastrointestinal tract,” Dr. Singh says, adding that you should keep an especially close eye on gluten and dairy.

  • Try eliminating some foods. You can try weeding out certain foods, like meat, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus, Dr. Kohen says. These are notorious for causing stinky poops.

  • Consider using a probiotic. Probiotics can help restore the balance of healthy bacteria in your gut and “can help settle some GI symptoms if they are minor,” Dr. Singh says.

  • Drink more water. Sometimes hydrating more can help flush out the stinky smell. “It is important to have adequate hydration for the health of the gut,” Dr. Navabi says.

The bottom line: Smelly poop is mostly harmless, especially if you don’t have any other symptoms. But, if it doesn't go away and you've noticed some other concerning symptoms along with your stinky poo, check in with your doc ASAP.

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