What It Means When Your Poop Smells Like Fish

"There's something fishy going on around here," you think to yourself as you leave the bathroom — and we mean this literally. If you've noticed changes in the odor of your stool as of late, you may be wondering what's going on. Our poop can take on some pretty strange smells depending on what we eat or in relation to certain health conditions. If your bowel movements have started to smell like fish, here's what you need to know.

For one, it may mean that you've been loading up on seafood recently. Experts at Statcare Urgent and Walk-In Medical Clinic state that excess consumption of fish or other sources of protein can cause our stool to give off a fishy funk. Such was the case for a reader who wrote into the Sarasota Herald-Tribune medical column complaining of a fishy aroma emanating from their mouth, urine, and bowel movements that would hang around for days after they ate fish. It turns out that a compound known as trimethylamine is to blame. Particularly abundant in deep-saltwater fish, this strong-smelling compound is broken down by the human body and released in the form of sweat and waste. However, some of us have more of the enzyme that processes trimethylamine than others, potentially leaving us with fishier-smelling poops.

You may have developed a bacterial infection

If your bowel movements have started to smell like fish, it could also potentially mean that you've developed a bacterial infection, explains Statcare Urgent and Walk-In Medical Clinic. Helicobacter pylori is one such bacteria that is usually seen in connection with ulcers in the stomach or small intestine (per Mayo Clinic). Fishy-smelling poops can also be a symptom of a Campylobacter bacterial infection, which can be contracted through ingestion of contaminated, raw, or undercooked poultry, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bacterial vaginosis, an infection that occurs due to an imbalance of natural bacteria in the vagina, may alternatively be the reason behind a fishy bowel movement.

Those with certain health conditions, such as celiac disease or other nutrient malabsorption issues, may also notice stool with a particularly pungent, fishy smell. Estimated to affect as many as 1 in every 133 people in the U.S., celiac disease occurs when gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine, thereby preventing the body from absorbing necessary nutrients (per Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Tips to alleviate a fishy odor

Because there are a number of different factors that can contribute to fishy-smelling stool, be sure to reach out to your doctor if you notice any abrupt changes in the appearance, consistency, or smell of bowel movements. Depending on the cause, your healthcare provider may suggest making certain dietary changes or using medication, such as antibiotics, probiotics, or digestive enzyme supplements to help curb a fishy odor (per Statcare Urgent and Walk-In Medical Clinic).

There are also things we can do on our own to help reduce the pungency of foul-smelling bowel movements. This includes supporting our gut health by drinking plenty of water and eating a healthy diet. Cutting back on fish and keeping the anal region clean can also help reduce the likelihood of fishy fecal odor. After going number two, always wipe softly from front to back to protect against the spread of bacteria. When showering, use plain running water to rinse the anus. While it's logical to think that soap would give us an even cleaner clean, many soap products contain harsh chemicals like fragrances that can irritate the area.