- Sweat, changes in vaginal bacteria, and perimenopause can alter the odor of your menstrual blood.
- A new, unpleasant odor can also indicate an infection or, in rare cases, cervical cancer.
- If good hygiene and changing menstrual products on time does not help, talk to your doctor.
No doubt about it, your menstrual cycle can cause some pretty unusual odors.
“Menstrual blood includes vaginal mucus and endometrial cells. The combination of that with blood can give off a distinctive odor,” says dr. Yana Markidana gynecologist in private practice.
But your blood should typically have a similar odor from month to month, whether it smells more metallic, sweet, or something else. If you notice a new odor during your menstrual cycle, it may indicate that something is not quite right, especially since vaginal odors can be a sign of infection.
Here are the seven most common reasons why your period smells stronger than usual and what to do next.
1. Natural Vaginal Bacteria That Mix With Blood
Although every body is different, healthy menstrual blood often smells metallic or sweet because of the iron and buyer contents in your blood mixed with vaginal bacteria.
If the mix of bacteria in your vagina (also known as your vaginal microbiome) changes, your menstrual blood may have a different odor.
Common culprits that can disrupt your vaginal microbiome include:
- To smoke
- Hormonal changes due to pregnancy or menopause
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
How to treat it: Practicing good vaginal and vulvar hygiene will help keep your vaginal microbiome healthy and reduce intense odors during your period.
If you already notice a strong odor, try one of the following: tips for good vaginal hygiene (and if that doesn’t help, see a doctor):
- Wash your vulva daily and after sex with warm water – remember that you don’t need to wash your vagina.
- Wear breathable cotton underwear.
- Wash new underwear before wearing.
- Avoid showering and scratching down there.
2. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
During menstruation, or your period, you lose “good” bacteria called lactobacilli, Markiden says. This puts you at greater risk of infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Markiden says bacterial vaginosis is the most common medical cause of vaginal odor. If you have it, you will likely notice a fishy odor there, which can mix with blood during your period to produce a particularly pungent odor.
Other symptoms of BV include:
- Burning, especially when urinating or during sex
- Green, gray or white discharge
- Intense itching
How to treat it: If you think you may have BV, you should seek medical attention. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to clear up the bacterial infection.
Your doctor may also suggest taking over-the-counter probiotics after the infection clears to help balance your microbiome and reduce your chances of developing BV.
3. Leaving menstrual product in or out for too long
If you leave your tampon, pad, or menstrual cup on for too long, you may notice an overpowering odor of blood.
How often should you replace your menstrual products? Well, that may depend on the products you prefer:
How to treat it: Changing menstrual products in time can reduce unwanted odors and help lower the risk of urinary tract infections, STIs and toxic shock syndrome.
4. Excessive Sweat
Sweating more than usual is a common symptom of menstruation. And if you sweat between your legs during your period, your vaginal area may smell something like a dirty gym bag.
Sweat glands in the genital area can enhance the odor of your vaginal microbiome and the natural odor of your skin. the combined salt, grease and bacteria of sweat, when mixed with menstrual blood, can create a potent, fragrant blend.
How to treat it: If sweat is the cause, gently washing your vulva with warm water and mild soap should remove the odor.
“During the menstrual cycle, you should use a gentle cleanser without fragrances. Soap can dry out the skin and change the sensitive pH of the vulva, making you more susceptible to infection,” says Markidan.
5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
If you notice a foul, pus-like odor accompanied by unusual discharge, you may have an STI such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea.
That said, with an STI, the smell will linger after your period is over.
Other symptoms of chlamydia and trichomoniasis include:
- Yellow, green, or other unusually colored discharge, which may mix with blood during your menstrual cycle
- Vaginal Bleeding When You Don’t Have Your Period
- Pain in your lower abdomen, which may resemble menstrual cramps
- Vaginal itching, burning, or pain – especially during urination or vaginal sex
Also keep in mind that STDs don’t always come with an odor — or noticeable symptoms.
How to treat it: A five, seven or ten day course of antibiotics can treat both trichomoniasis and chlamydia.
“Avoid douching and vaginal steaming, and clean your sex toys, as these can spread STDs,” says dr. Sophia YenCEO of Panda Health and professor at Stanford Medical School.
6. Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer can lead to a strong, foul odor in your genital area. This smell, which some people say resembles rotten meat, occurs when your body sheds dead tissue or cancer cells that then come out through your vagina.
Cervical cancer can lead to a heavier current or longer periods, and you will notice that the smell intensifies during your period.
Worldwide, cervical cancer is one of the most common types of canceralthough it is less common in the United States due to higher numbers of annual smears and vaccinations. It is most often diagnosed before menopause, between the ages of 35 and 44.
Common symptoms include:
- Spotting or bleeding between periods
- Low back pain, which can resemble menstrual cramps
- Pain or bleeding after sex due to tumor growth
- Difficulty holding back urine
- Pain and swelling in your legs
- Unintentional weight loss or loss of appetite
How to treat it: If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your OB-GYN for a Pap smear. Depending on the results, your healthcare team may recommend: further testing and a biopsy.
treatments for cervical cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, or a combination of these.
Perimenopause causes hormonal changes and vaginal dryness that can lead to a unusual vaginal odor during your period.
This is because your vaginal pH gradually becomes more alkaline and your estrogen levels fluctuate, resulting in: heavier and irregular periods that can amplify vaginal odors.
Other signs of perimenopause include:
How to treat it: Estrogen treatments and vitamins can increase vaginal lubrication and improve odors as vaginal discharge Modify in response to a combination of hormonal and nutritional factors.
If you prefer not to use hormones, a health care professional can provide more information about other treatment options, including vaginal lubrication.
In most cases, an unusual odor during your period is not a cause for concern. By replacing your menstrual products on time and by gently cleaning your vulva with water and a mild cleanser, unwanted odors can disappear.
If you notice any other symptoms, such as nausea or pain, or just feel like something isn’t right, contact your doctor as soon as possible. They can help you identify possible causes and recommend the right treatment to help you feel better.