Causes of Foul-Smelling Stool

Stools normally have an unpleasant odor, but foul-smelling stool can have a putrid and unusually strong smell.

Foul smell in the stool can be due to some kind of food or can also indicate an underlying medical condition(1).

Causes of Foul-Smelling Stools

There are a few causes that can lead to a foul smell in the stool.

  1. Antibiotics and Other Medication

    Antibiotics temporarily upset the stomach and lead to foul-smelling stool. It is because antibiotics disrupt the delicate balance of the gut flora. This leads to the overgrowth of harmful intestinal bacteria and may cause the following symptoms:

    Foul-smelling diarrhea is sometimes also associated with multivitamin intake.

    The symptoms disappear as soon the course of antibiotic is over and the good bacteria are replenished.

    Drink plenty of fluid and avoid wheat, dairy, and high-fiber food as it can further irritate the intestine.

  2. Infection

    Infections affecting the intestine can lead to foul-smelling stool.

    It can occur after eating food contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and parasites.

    As soon as the intestines get an infection there may be:

    • Pain in the abdomen
    • Runny stool
    • Foul-smelling stool

    Infection can be avoided by handling food properly before eating. Also maintaining proper hygiene can help prevent intestinal infections.

  3. Lactose Intolerance

    Lactase is an enzyme present in the body to break down lactose.

    Lactose is a type of sugar present in milk and also in other dairy products. A person who cannot tolerate lactose does not produce enough lactase to digest it.

    They may present the following symptoms:

    • Nausea
    • Abdominal cramping
    • Bloating and gas
    • Foul-smelling stool
    • Watery stool

    Lactose intolerance can be diagnosed with a blood test, stool acidity test, hydrogen breath test, and a genetic test.

    Avoiding milk and other dairy products is the best way to prevent the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

  4. Celiac Disease

    People with celiac disease experience an immune reaction on eating gluten, a protein present in wheat, barley, and rice(2).

    In this disease, the immune system overreacts to the presence of gluten and attacks the lining of the small intestine.

    The symptoms of this Celiac disease include:

    • Pale fatty stool
    • Foul-smelling stool
    • Weight loss
    • Diarrhea
    • Confusion and tiredness
    • Bloating and abdominal pain
    • Mouth sores
    • Muscle cramps

    The condition can be detected by blood tests and endoscopy.

    If diagnosed with celiac disease, the person should follow a gluten-free diet.

  5. Short Bowel Syndrome

    Short bowel syndrome is a rare condition that occurs when a small part of the intestine is absent or unable to function.

    Due to this condition, people experience malabsorption that can lead to serious complications.

    The symptoms of small bowel syndrome include:

    • Severe diarrhea
    • Pale and greasy stool that is foul-smelling
    • Lethargy
    • Dehydration
    • Weight and muscle loss
    • Malnutrition

    The condition can be detected by blood tests and imaging techniques. It can be treated with antidiarrheal medications, dietary adjustments, intravenous fluids, and surgery.

  6. Ulcerative Colitis

    Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed and develops ulcers.

    It occurs when the immune system mistakes friendly intestinal bacteria for harmful bacteria.

    The symptoms presented by a person suffering from ulcerative colitis are:

    • Foul-smelling stool
    • Bowel incontinence
    • Constipation
    • Diarrhea
    • Cramps in the abdomen

    Doctors can recommend a blood test, stool analysis, endoscopy, and biopsy for diagnosis of the condition.

    It can be treated by taking anti-inflammatory medications, avoiding foods that trigger the condition, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and undergoing surgery to remove the colon.

  7. Chronic Pancreatitis

    Chronic pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas that worsens over time. This leads to irreparable damage and affects the ability of the person to digest food and make pancreatic hormones.

    Symptoms of Chronic Pancreatitis Include:

    • Oily and fatty stool
    • Foul-smelling stool
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Malnutrition
    • Pale and clay-colored stool

    It can be diagnosed by CT scan, abdominal ultrasound, endoscopic ultrasound, and MRI scans.

    The treatment of chronic pancreatitis focuses mainly on relieving pain.

    A foul-smelling stool can occur due to various factors. It is always better to get treated for any abnormal condition occurring in the body.

    It is important to consult a doctor if the stool is dark-colored, contains blood in it, or has the following symptoms:

    • Chills
    • fever
    • Weight loss
    • Cramping
    • Abdominal pain

    They might indicate a serious underlying health issue that would require medical attention.

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