What body odour says about our health and when it could be life-threatening

It's commonly known that every single one of us has a unique smell – rather like a fingerprint.

But body odour – particularly sudden and persistent changes to the norm – can sometimes indicate an underlying medical condition. Upon the merest hint of a whiff, we reach for the shower and deodorant spray – but what if the smell we are trying to wash away is something else entirely?

What if we notice a strange, sweet and fruity aroma about our person – or an unpleasant waft of rotten eggs? A lead pharmacist from digital pharmacy Medino Giulia Guerrini says the very worst thing you can do when you notice a bad smell on yourself is to dismiss it.

She says: "You owe it to yourself (and the people around you!) to identify the cause as quickly as possible and get the proper treatment".

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What bad body odour could be telling us

You're overweight

GP Dr Sophie Newton says you're more likely to have bad body odour if you're overweight or obese. This is mainly because if you're carrying a fair few extra pounds you tend to have folds in your skin, which are unfortunately a breeding ground for bacteria.

Obesity is a global issue that affects millions of people around the world, and is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

A study has shown that people who are obese have a reduced ability to detect and discriminate smell compared with those who are slimmer. As such, this suggests a 'perfect storm' of bigger people being less likely to notice if they smell bad.

You could have diabetes

An astonishing number of people now have diabetes in the UK. The increasingly common condition causes a person’s blood sugar to become too high – essentially an inability of the body to break down glucose levels.

Ninety per cent of those affected have Type 2 diabetes, which can be hereditary but is often triggered by a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet.

Diabetes UK says 4.3million people have been diagnosed with either Type 1 or Type 2 — and an estimated 850,000 more are unaware they even have the condition.

If you have the condition, a change in body odour could signal diabetes-related ketoacidosis, which can smell 'fruity', says Dr Newton.

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious problem that can happen in people with diabetes if their body starts to run out of insulin, says the NHS. Insulin is an essential hormone which helps your body turn food into energy and controls your blood sugar levels.

People with diabetes either can’t make enough insulin or can’t use it properly. If you have DKA, the the body cannot use sugar for energy, so begins to use fat instead.

Ketones are a type of chemical that your liver produces when it breaks down fats, and high levels of this causes your blood to turn acidic and your body odour 'sweet'.

What are the main symptoms of diabetes?

  • Urinating more frequently than usual, particularly at night
  • Feeling very tired
  • Weight loss and loss of muscle bulk
  • Itching around the penis or vagina, or frequent episodes of thrush
  • Blurred vision

Top tips to help manage diabetes

Keep calm – Stress can cause blood sugar levels to rise, so relaxing is important.

Be in the know – Continuous glucose monitoring is important to manage diabetes. It can help you react more quickly to whether it is high or low.

Drink in moderation – Drinking alcohol can produce signs of low blood sugar.

Improve oral hygiene – Diabetes puts you at greater risk for gum disease as people with the condition have a lowered ability to fight infection from bacteria in the mouth.

Sweeten it yourself – Reduce sugar in your diet by adding your own sweeteners.

You could have kidney failure

Kidney failure is when the organ's functionality drops below 15 per cent of normal, says the National Institute of Health. Dr Newton describes it as a long-term condition where the organs that filter waste products from the blood don't work as they should.

When kidneys fail your body can be overcome by toxins, which can be life-threatening. The GP said it's possible for people with the condition to have an ammonia-like body smell, due to a build-up of toxins.

You could have liver disease

Serious liver disease can make breath smell musty or like garlic and rotten eggs, says the National Institute of Health. Compounds transported through the blood can also be released through your sweat glands, which can make your armpits and skin smell bad.

When the liver stops working properly, numerous toxins and contaminants get built up in the urine, sweat and breath, says Dr Newton. Over time, liver disease can cause cirrhosis (scarring), says the Cleveland Clinic

As more and more scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, the organ finds it hard to function properly. Left untreated, liver disease can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

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