A doctor explains what part of the body the odor from liver disease affects and comes from.

You may have read online references to “body odor” when it comes to liver disease, but not much more information than that.

For this article I consulted with Dr. Jeffrey Fine, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the Medical Surgical Clinic of Irving; gastroenterologist at Star Medical Center in Plano and Las Colinas Medical Center, Irving. Dr. Fine has more than 20 years of experience in gastroenterology and specializes in gastrointestinal diseases and food sensitivities.

I asked Dr. Fine: When liver disease causes a change in body odor (regardless of type of odor), what part or parts of the body does this come from?

Dr. Fine explains: “The odor is caused by the inability of the liver to break down proteins correctly. It’s coming from the lungs through the mouth. It’s seen in portal hypertension, where there’s significant portosystemic shunting.

“This is a late sign of liver failure. Individuals who are experiencing this body odor are in bad shape and should’ve already been seen by a liver transplant hepatologist and surgeon.”

Hypertension is high blood pressure. A portosystemic shunt means that the vascular connection between the GI tract and liver, due to a pathology, is bypassed (shunted).

I then asked, Does it occur even if the patient is NOT perspiring? (I had been wondering if the odor could come from one’s pores or armpits). Dr. Fine says, “Yes. The odor is caused by the inability of the liver to break down proteins correctly. It comes from the lungs through the mouth.”

My last question was, Can the development of this change in odor occur suddenly, and/or is it usually over a long period of time? “The smell can wax and wane, but by the time a person experiences it, they are already in the advanced stages of liver disease.”