5 Causes Of Abnormal Vaginal Odour Every Woman Should Know About

Don't ignore these red flags.


Dr Christine Kriel |

Ugggggh – what’s that smell? Vaginal odour is mostly normal, but not always. Here, the low-down on what constitutes abnormal vaginal odour, and what’s causing it, from Dr Christine Kriel.

Bacterial vaginosis

Infections can cause abnormal vaginal odour. One, bacterial vaginosis, is a common infection caused by a disruption to your vaginal pH and microbiome (say, for example, from douching, or using vaginal deodorants or other irritating products).

READ MORE: What Every Type Of Vaginal Odour Means For Your Health – And How To Get Rid Of It ASAP

The most common complaint is a thin grey-white discharge and vaginal itch. Associated symptoms include a fishy smell, especially after sex and during your period. Treatment is a course of antibiotics. Note: This condition shouldn’t be left untreated, as it can cause complications like pelvic inflammatory disease and premature labour.

Trichomoniasis

The second condition is a sexually transmitted infection (STI), called trichomoniasis. It occurs anything between four to 28 days after intercourse, and symptoms include a yellow-green discharge, painful urination, a pungent vaginal odour, red and inflamed vaginal walls, and pain and bleeding after sex. Treatment is an antibiotic (a single dose or a course) – and your partner needs to get treated too!

READ MORE: Seriously, Why Is My Vagina So Itchy?

Good to know: Candida, a yeast infection caused by bacterial overgrowth, is the most common vaginal infection, but it shouldn’t cause vaginal odour. Patients usually complain of vaginal itch and cottage-cheese-like discharge, and treatment involves an intravaginal or oral antifungal.

Rectovaginal fistula, and certain cancers

A serious (but rare) condition causing vaginal odour is a rectovaginal fistula (a tunnel between the vagina and rectum that causes leakage of faeces into the vagina). This is a complication of pelvic surgery, complicated child birth, Crohn’s disease or radiation in the pelvic area. Vaginal cancer is another rare cause, mostly associated with immunosuppressive conditions like HIV.

READ MORE: Here’s How To Treat Vaginal Dryness – And Totally Change Your Sex Life

Cervical cancer may cause vaginal odour. It’s caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), an STI, and is detected by routine Pap smears. Doctors can now test for high-risk HPV, which means earlier detection of pre-cancer lesions… and less frequent Pap smears. Great news for those of us who dread that particular check-up. Ask your doc for more info.

READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Health Conditions Sexual Health Vaginas