Have you noticed a fishy odor during sex or your period? Does it get worse after eating certain foods or sweating? Read on to learn more about the different causes of a vaginal fishy smell and how to solve this problem.
Why does my vagina smell fishy?
Under normal circumstances, your genital fluids shouldn’t have a strong or unpleasant smell. However, there are many factors that can affect your genital odor, from STDs to lifestyle factors. If you have a fishy smell and discharge, it could be a sign that you’re dealing with some type of infection and need to seek medical assistance.
Let’s go over some of the most common causes of fishy odor discharge and what you can do about each of them.
Causes of fish odor in vagina
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
Bacterial vaginosis is a fairly common vaginal infection caused by an overgrowth in certain types of normal vaginal bacteria. According to the Cleveland Clinic, BV is the most common vaginal infection in women aged 15 to 44, and symptoms can include:
- Gray, green, or off-white vaginal discharge
- Bad fishy smell after intercourse or during your period
- Vaginal itching or soreness (rare)
In some cases, BV goes away on its own, but it can also require antibiotics. Since BV symptoms are very similar to other infections, it’s important to seek medical assistance to get a correct diagnosis.
Trichomoniasis is an STD caused by a type of parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. According to the CDC, many cases of trichomoniasis — also known as “trich” — are completely asymptomatic. Trichomoniasis is a common STD that can smell like fish. In other cases, symptoms of trichomoniasis can include:
- Genital itching or irritation
- Burning during intercourse or urination
- Discharge from the penis
- Clear, white, yellow, or green discharge with a foul smell
Trichomoniasis can be treated with a course of antibiotics. You’ll also need to abstain from sex until you finish your treatment.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI can cause a fishy smell, although it’s relatively uncommon. In some cases, the bacteria that is causing the infection can lead to foul-smelling urine. According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs of a UTI can include:
- Painful or burning sensation when you urinate
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Feeling like you can’t empty your bladder completely
- Cloudy or bloody urine
- Pelvic or lower back pain
UTIs are very common, especially among women. Fortunately, most UTIs can be easily treated with antibiotics.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, vaginitis refers to any condition that causes inflammation of the vagina. When the vagina is irritated, an unpleasant or fishy smell can develop. Yeast infections, BV, and trichomoniasis are some of the most common causes of vaginitis.
The treatment for vaginitis will depend on what is causing the inflammation.
Prostatitis can be a source of fishy smell in men. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, prostatitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the prostate and surrounding tissues. Symptoms of prostatitis can include:
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during or after urination
- Fishy odor during sex, ejaculation, or urination
- Increased urinary frequency and urgency
- Fever or chills
- Urinary retention
- Waking up to urinate during the night
Trimethylaminuria (‘fish odor syndrome’)
Trimethylaminuria, or fish odor syndrome, is a condition that causes an unpleasant smell in some people. According to the NHS, some cases of fish odor syndrome are caused by faulty genetics. This condition can’t be cured, but there are steps you can take to manage it.
Trimethylaminuria only has one symptom, which is a smell of rotting fish that can affect body odor, sweat, breath, urine, and vaginal fluids. This strong fishy odor discharge typically gets worse with sweating, stress, menstrual periods, and after eating certain foods — including eggs, fish, and beans. Trimethylaminuria can be a cause of fishy odor with no discharge or itching.
The management of fish odor syndrome includes avoiding foods that worsen the smell, engaging in gentle exercising, managing stress levels, and maintaining good hygiene.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
According to Planned Parenthood, PID is a type of infection that can affect your uterus, Fallopian tubes, and ovaries. PID is usually the result of a genital or vaginal infection — such as an STD — that has spread to the rest of your reproductive system. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are common causes of PID.
PID can lead to severe complications if it’s not treated quickly, including sepsis and fertility problems.
In some cases, a fishy smell can simply be the result of poor hygiene. This is more likely after sweating profusely or around your period, especially if you have forgotten to switch your pad or tampon after some time.
Visit STDWatch.com now to learn more about other topics surrounding sexual and reproductive health, including at-home STD testing.
Bacterial Vaginosis - my.clevelandclinic.org
Trichomoniasis – CDC Basic Fact Sheet - cdc.gov
Urinary tract infection (UTI) - mayoclinic.org
Vaginitis - hopkinsmedicine.org
Prostatitis: Inflammation of the Prostate - niddk.nih.gov
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) - plannedparenthood.org