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It is normal for the vagina to have a mild, musky or fleshy smell - this is actually the typical scent of vaginas. Sometimes, due to hormonal changes, or eating smelly foods, such as garlic or fish, there may be subtle changes in your vaginal odour. For example, your vaginal odour may be stronger or have a slightly "metallic" scent during menstrual cycle, usually mid-cycle. Intercourse may also cause temporarily odour changes, which is not a cause for concern. However, if you have a strong unpleasant vaginal odour or fishy smell that continues for several days, it is advisable to consult a doctor. It could be a symptom of a health problem, especially if it is accompanied with other symptoms, including greyish-white discharge, burning and itching.
The most common cause of abnormal vaginal odour is vaginitis, an inflammation of the vagina that occurs due to overgrowth of normal vaginal bacteria or an infection. If not treated, vaginitis can lead to vaginal infections that can spread to the uterus or fallopian tubes. Women with vaginitis are also at greater risk of contracting STDs. Vaginitis during pregnancy may increase risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and infection of amniotic fluid.
Women who frequently change their sexual partners may be at higher risk for trichomoniasis - a sexually transmitted infection which can also cause abnormal vaginal odour. Abnormal vaginal smell may also be a sign of rectovaginal fistula, a rare condition in which an opening between the rectum and vagina allows stool to leak from your bowel into your vagina. Vaginal cancer and cervical cancer can also cause a heavy vaginal discharge that can have a strong odour. However, cancer is a rare cause of abnormal vaginal odour.
Poor hygiene and use of douches, an intravaginal liquid cleansing solution, may increase your risk for developing abnormal vaginal odour. Use of douches can upset the pH levels in the vagina and lead to infection, which is the most common cause of vaginal odour. Hence, health experts advise women to avoid use of douches and practice good hygiene by showering regularly with water.
Foul smelling discharge could be a sign of advanced vaginal cancer. This should be evaluated immediately. Other signs and symptoms vaginal cancer include:
Although, there is no sure way to prevent vaginal cancer, it you may reduce the risk by avoiding the factors that are associated with the condition. Risk factors of vaginal cancer include multiple sexual partners, early age at first intercourse, smoking, HIV infection, and exposure to miscarriage prevention drug. Routine pelvic exams and Pap tests can help detect vaginal cancer early, which in turn increase the chances of being cured.
A foul-smelling vaginal discharge is a possible sign of cervical cancer. Don't ignore a continuous bloody vaginal discharge. Watch out for other signs or symptoms of cervical cancer such as unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain, bleeding after intercourse and bleeding after menopause.
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