Typically, human stool isn’t described as having a sweet Smell. However, there is a type of bacterial infection known as Clostridioides difficile infection that can cause a distinctively unpleasant and overly sweet odor in the stool.
Is Bacterial infection?
When a person takes antibiotics, it can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines, leading to various health issues including bacterial infections and chronic intestinal inflammation. One such infection is caused by a toxin-producing anaerobic bacterium called Clostridioides difficile, previously known as Clostridium difficile.
This bacterium is responsible for causing antibiotic-associated colitis, a condition that results in symptoms such as cramps, fever, diarrhea, nausea, and leukocytosis (an increased level of white blood cells in the blood). In some cases, a unique symptom of CDI is a distinct sweet smell of the stool, which is often compared to the smell of horse manure.
Risk factors for CDI
Although any antibiotic can result in susceptibility to CDI, the antibiotics most frequently implicated with CDI are:
Other risk factors include:
- age over 65
- recent hospitalization
- proton pump inhibitor use
Understanding the smell
In 2013, a study was conducted to teach a beagle how to detect the unique smell of Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile). The dog was able to correctly identify 25 out of 30 cases of CDI and 265 out of 270 non-infected control subjects, showcasing the accuracy of using smell as a diagnostic tool.
Understanding the smell of C. diff
However, there has been an urban myth that nurses can identify patients with CDI just by the smell of their stool. A 2007 study conducted surveys among 138 nursing staff and concluded that nurses were 55% sensitive and 83% specific in diagnosing CDI based on the smell of patients’ diarrhea.
A follow-up study was conducted in 2013 in a controlled laboratory setting, which found that nurses were unable to identify stool samples containing C. difficile by their smell.
The researchers suggested that the results of previous studies might have been influenced by the nurses not being properly blinded and able to observe the characteristics of the patients and their stool during the sniff test.
Therefore, this study disproved the urban legend that nurses can identify patients with CDI just by the smell of their stool.
Causes of Sweet Smelling Poop
If you notice that your stool has a particularly strong, unpleasant odor, there are a variety of possible reasons why. One of the most common causes is certain types of foods that you’ve consumed, especially spicy or meat-based dishes. Additionally, foods like eggs, fatty or sugary processed foods, and cruciferous vegetables can also cause your stool to have a more potent odor.
However, if your stool consistently smells bad, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In some cases, foul-smelling stool may be linked to conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or ulcerative colitis. Other possible causes could include lactose intolerance, pancreatitis, or malabsorption.
If you’re experiencing consistently bad-smelling stool, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine what might be causing the issue. By working with your healthcare provider, you can identify the underlying cause of your symptoms and take steps to improve your digestive health.
Clostridioides difficile (C. diff) infection (CDI) can cause diarrhea that has a distinct smell, which can be described as unpleasantly sweet. CDI is more likely to occur in individuals who are over 65 years old, have been recently hospitalized, or have completed a course of antibiotics.
If you have any of these risk factors and are experiencing intestinal discomfort, along with an unusual sweet odor in your stool, it is advisable to consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of CDI.