Body odor is the term used for any unpleasant smell associated with a person's body.
People usually associate body odor with sweat, but sweat by itself does not give off an odor. Sweat is nothing more than water and salts expelled by the sweat glands to control body temperature. Bacteria on a person's skin can mix with the sweat and produce body odor. Body odor can sometimes be a sign of a more serious medical condition.
Causes of body odor include:
Other causes are also possible. Sometimes, no cause can be found.
When someone complains of body odor, the doctor will need more information. Some of the questions he or she might ask include:
The doctor's role is to help make sure there is not a serious medical condition causing the body odor. Diagnosis starts with a medical history and physical exam. This may be all that is needed in some cases. In other cases, further testing may be needed.
The tests ordered depend on the suspected cause. The doctor may order:
Other tests may be needed in some cases.
Prevention is related to the cause. For instance, avoiding drugs or toxins can prevent cases from this cause. Taking medicines as prescribed and monitoring blood glucose levels at home can prevent many cases due to uncontrolled diabetes. Regular dentist visits and regular teeth brushing with approved toothpaste can prevent many cases due to tooth diseases.
Body odor may sometimes cause problems in the affected person's relationships. A person may feel shame, embarrassment, anger, frustration, or depression as a result of his or her body odor. Other long-term effects are related to the cause of the body odor. For instance, some of the aminoaciduria conditions can cause communication\ \
Body odor is not catching. If the body odor is due to an infection, the infection may be contagious, such as a sexually transmitted disease. Inherited conditions may be passed on to children through the genes.
A person who is prone to getting an unpleasant body odor should wash daily with soap. The individual might also consider using a deodorant with an antiperspirant, to help prevent sweating. A well-balanced diet following the food guide pyramid is also advised and may help in some cases.
Treatment is directed at the cause when one can be found. For instance, a person with an infection may need antibiotics. Someone with cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. A person who eats certain foods or takes certain toxins or drugs needs to stop eating or using these substances. Those with psychological conditions may need to see a therapist regularly or take medicines.
Side effects are related to the treatment. Some people may have skin irritation or an allergy to certain deodorants. Antibiotics can cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding or infection.
A person who is prone to develop body odor can often prevent it with the use of deodorants that contain an antiperspirant. Those with diabetes or kidney or liver failure need lifelong monitoring and treatment for their conditions. Those with an infection often need no further monitoring or treatment once the infection has been treated.
Changes or response to treatment can be reported to the doctor. Other monitoring is related to the cause. For instance, a person with diabetes needs to check blood sugar levels often. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.
Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
Reviewer:Adam Brochert, MD
The New Wellness Encyclopedia, First Edition, 1995, Published by Rebus, Inc., 632 Broadway, New York, New York 10012.
Integrative Medicine www.healthy.net