Stools - foul smelling

Alternative names
Foul-smelling stools

Foul-smelling stool is usually associated with diet, but may be an indication of a medical condition.

Stool normally has an unpleasant odor, but one that is recognized as fairly common. Stools that have an extremely bad, out-of-the-ordinary odor may be associated with certain medical conditions. Foul-smelling stools also have normal causes, most notably diet.

Foul smelling stools may occur in conjunction with floating stools.

Common Causes

  • Cystic fibrosis  
  • Gluten-induced enteropathy (sprue, celiac disease)  
  • Malabsorption  
  • Idiopathic steatorrhea (fatty stools with no known cause)  
  • Disaccharidase deficiency (insufficient amounts of the sugar-digesting enzymes)  
  • Short bowel syndrome  
  • Crohn’s disease  
  • Ulcerative colitis  
  • Infectious colitis (colon infections)

Home Care
Home care depends on the specific diagnosis. Follow your health care provider’s instructions closely, and adhere strictly to prescribed diets. If you have diarrhea, make sure to increase your water intake to avoid dehydration.

Call your health care provider if

If you have associated symptoms - abdominal pain, fever, chills, cramping, weight loss, stools that float or are difficult to flush, blood in the stool, black or pale stools, mucus in the stool, or diet-related changes in your stool - call your health care provider.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
Foul-smelling stools are a single symptom of a disease complex. Other symptoms and signs are generally present. Your health care provider will take a family and disease history, then complete a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • When did you first notice that the stools were foul-smelling?  
  • Are the stools an abnormal color (especially pale or clay-colored stools)?  
  • Are there floating stools or stools that are difficult to flush?  
  • What sort of diet has been eaten recently?  
  • Does a change in the diet make the smell worse or better?  
  • What other symptoms are present?

A stool sample will be obtained for laboratory analysis. Other studies may be indicated.

After seeing your health care provider:
You may want to add a diagnosis related to the cause of foul-smelling stools to your personal medical record.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.