Liver disease can cause a strong body odor, but just what does this mean?

What body part does this stink come from? Is it the entire body or some localized area like the armpit?

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

When liver disease causes a change in body odor (regardless of type of odor), a specific region of the body emits this.

“The odor is caused by the inability of the liver to break down proteins correctly,” says Jeffrey Fine, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the Medical Surgical Clinic of Irving.

“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).

Does it occur even if the patient is NOT perspiring?

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.”

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.”

Dr. Fine has been in practice for over 25 years and specializes in digestive health, integrative medicine and food sensitivities.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer. 
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