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Diseases that Cause Body Odor

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 9/25/2009

The human body is capable of producing a wide variety of odors, not all of them pleasant. Although people associate sweat with bad body odor, it is in fact odorless. The rank smells are caused by bacteria mixing with the sweat and can sometimes be a sign of an underlying serious medical condition.

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    Bad Body Odor

    The human body is capable of causing a right stink - from smelly feet, to bad breath, flatulence and many more flower-wilting whiffs. The root causes are usually the bacteria that live on and inside us, and that includes the bad body odor that can sometimes emanate from armpits, belly buttons and other areas. To understand why, we need to look at skin glands - there are three major types covering the human body - apocrine glands, eccrine (sweat) glands, and sebaceous glands.

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    Sweat and Bacteria

    Nostrils by David Shankbone The nose-turning culprits are the eccrine glands that release sweat that is 99% water and 1% trace salts and potassium, and the apocrine glands that can be found in the armpits, genitals, and wherever there is body hair. The latter secrete a sticky viscous substance and bacteria feed off this and sweat. The odors are released as a by-product of microbial meal time.

    Bad body odor can be eradicated by maintaining good personal hygiene and scrubbing the skin. However, sometimes the offensive odors won't go away and could be indicative of a potentially serious medical condition.

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    Body Odor May Be A Symptom Of ...

    Body odor may be a symptom of: -

    • Liver or kidney problems - these are the body's main filtering organs and if they fail toxic and pungent smelling fluids can accumulate and are released through the pores of the skin or via the breath
    • Tumours of the mouth or stomach - they can release foul odors
    • Cancer of the cervix or uterus - can create a vaginal discharge with an unpleasant smell
    • Rotting teeth and periodontal disease can cause bad breath
    • Ketoacidosis - a serious disorder brought on by dangerously high levels of ketones (acid) in the blood - it can detected from a fruity odor on the breath. Many diabetics can suffer from ketoacidosis.
    • Overactive thyroid - can cause excessive sweating, so more of a substrate for bacteria to feed off

    Most cases of body odor have a completely innocent explanation, but if you are worried about pungent smells that just won't go away despite scrupulous hygiene, it would be worth popping into your doctor's surgery where simple blood tests can rule out many of the disorders.

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    Picture Credit

    David Shankbone - released under GNU Free Documentation License