What Are the Common Causes of Foul Smelling Vaginal Discharge?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2018
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The most common cause of foul smelling vaginal discharge is infection. For example, certain types of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may cause a discharge that smells bad, though some may not cause any symptoms at all. Interestingly, however, a woman may have an infection that is not sexually transmitted but still causes an unpleasant smell. This can occur, for example, when bacteria that are normally present in the vagina overgrow and cause infection. Sometimes the unpleasant smell is even caused by the presence of a foreign body, such as a tampon that has been left in the vagina for far too long.

Most women do have a slight natural odor in the vaginal area that may also extend to their discharge. In most cases, however, this discharge is not considered foul smelling; it is usually fairly mild in odor. If a woman does have a foul smelling discharge, however, it might be a sign of some type of infection. Some of the infections that are capable of causing foul smelling discharge are sexually transmitted, but many are not.


One of the most common causes of smelly vaginal discharge is an infection called trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is sexually transmitted and caused by a parasite. The discharge that develops when a woman is infected is often grayish, yellowish, or even greenish in color, and it usually has a watery in consistency. A woman may also have itching in the area when she has this infection as well as pain or bleeding during or after sexual intercourse. Pain during urination and swelling of the vaginal area may occur as well.

Bacterial vaginosis is another infection that can cause a whitish or grayish, smelly discharge. This infection develops when bacteria that are normally present in the vagina overgrow. It is not always spread through sexual activity, as some people who are not sexually active do develop it. In addition to the troublesome discharge typical of this infection, a woman may experience vaginal itching, pain or burning during urination or intercourse, and abnormal vaginal bleeding when she has this infection.

Foul smelling vaginal discharge also may develop because of the presence of a foreign body in the vagina. For example, if a woman forgets that she is wearing a tampon when her period ends, it could remain there unnoticed for a significant period of time. Eventually, it may cause an infection, with such symptoms as vaginal discharge that smells bad and is also brownish or black.


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Post 10

I was recently treated for bacterial vaginosis and then candida, but a few days afterward, I noticed a cottage cheese-like discharge on my partner, but a normal white liquid discharge on my underwear. Then the discharge wasn't cottage cheese like anymore and it tastes sour and smells a bit foul and not normal for me. It hurts during sex and feels inflamed sometimes, especially at night. I'm scared. I don't know what's happening. Help, please!

Post 7

There is this old woman who comes to my home. Actually, she's my husband's mother. I just can't stand the foul smell from her, even after she bathes. She's almost seventy, and the odor coming from her is unbearable. I wonder if she can smell herself.

Whenever she sits and sleeps, the smell is unbearable. Is that normal for old people, or only her? I think the discharge is from her vagina. Yuck!

I feel like telling her, but I'm shy. I just know it's not normal.

Post 4

I have had a discharge for the last few weeks. It's clear and watery and has a foul smell to it. There's no itching or burning or no signs of a infection. It is just annoying because I have to wear a pad or else you can smell it through my clothes. I am not sexually active. I have one partner and that's it. What could it be?

Post 3

I am 20 years old. I have excess vaginal discharge and it's foul-smelling. I have to change underwear and clean very frequently, Plus it gets itchy sometimes. I went to an OB/GYN and was treated for candidiasis, but the symptoms got worse. Help!

Post 2

It seems like a lot of women, especially young ones, don't want to talk to their doctors about vaginal discharge and/or odor, for obvious reasons. They feel "dirty" when they notice it, especially because many causes are sexually transmitted. I can't tell you how many times at the library I've seen a teenager girl surreptitiously using the Internet or even (in what I assume is a desperate bid for privacy) resorting to browsing *books* on sexual health, trying to find out what's wrong with them.

There's no reason to stigmatize STDs. They're just bad luck. Take steps to prevent them and forgive yourself if you get one anyway or if you trust the wrong person. If there are teenagers in your life, make yourself a safe person to talk to. If your doctor makes you feel judged, find a new one. We all deserve non-judgmental, matter-of-fact medical care and easy access to accurate information.

Post 1

In my experience, pregnancy can also cause a change in your vaginal odor that you (or your partner) might find unpleasant. It does not necessarily mean that something's wrong. During pregnancy, your hormone levels are obviously very different and the pH of your vagina can also chance (which can cause itching).

Most OBs and midwives will test for pretty much everything at your 12 week appointment - yeast, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia, etc. Those might not have symptoms but they can hurt your baby.

But remember, any time you are worried, you can ask them to re-test you later on. You'll have to use your best judgment and trust your instincts whether what you are noticing is normal or "off." (And if you're not sure, err on the side of being tested! It's just a swab.)

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