An odor can be one of the greatest sensory tools for doctors, as it can help them determine a patient’s diagnosis. Of course, doctors visually examine all patients and use their hearing to listen to heartbeats, but the ability to smell a diagnosis is at the top of the list of important senses that physicians use and can be extremely useful in identifying certain diseases.
On this list, you will find that there are some diseases that release interesting smells that can be more pleasant than others. Nevertheless, the prospect of using scent as a criterion for a diagnosis is a promising one.
10. Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Unmanaged diabetes can lead to a low level of insulin production that cannot store the glucose consumed from food in the tissues. Since cells cannot use glucose, there is no ability to create energy, which forces the body to break down fat to make energy instead of sugar. The breakdown process of fats is known as ketone.
You may be familiar with acetone, as it is widely used at nail salons, but what you may be unfamiliar with is that our bodies are capable of producing acetone through the breakdown of fats and the development of ketone. When sugar levels become high, and ketone levels rise to an unsafe amount, diabetics enter a state called diabetic ketoacidosis.
The acetone created emits a fruity smell in the patient’s breath and can be detected by anyone, especially doctors. Dogs can also be trained to pick up the smell and alert the patient of high blood sugar.
9. Maple Syrup Urine Disease
Can you imagine smelling the sweet scent of maple syrup every time you use the restroom? For people who have diabetes, this smell can be experienced due to the disorder called maple syrup urine disease. The disease is an autosomal recessive metabolic disorder that affects the way patients break down amino acids.
Patients who have this disease are unable to break down amino acids correctly. The amino acids exit the body through the urine and cause this distinct odor. Currently, there is no cure for this disease, but measures can be taken to control the symptoms.
Can you smell migraines? Probably not, but your furry friend might! In a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, the link between dogs’ behavior and their owner’s health during a migraine was observed. The study found that dogs were able to recognize a migraine up to two hours before onset. However, bias was evident in the study, thus requiring the need for a closer investigation before any conclusions could be drawn.
Migraine attacks can cause severe pain for many hours and are usually accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. There are warning signs to keep an eye on, like an aura, which can occur before a headache and can be experienced as light flashes, blind spots or tingling on one side of the face, arm or leg. Migraines progress in four stages: prodrome, aura, headache, and post-drome.
7. Arsenic Poisoning
Arsenic is a chemical that can be found nearly everywhere: in food, water, and the air. It can be incorporated into things like pesticides and bullets, but a common way for humans to come into contact with arsenic is through the contamination of groundwater. In fact, people living in a remote village in the Andes of Argentina appear to have developed a high tolerance to arsenic, equal to 20 times the safe limit.
Arsenic poisoning functions by blocking the enzymes that are essential for creating energy in the body. Symptoms of arsenic toxicity can include vomiting, vertigo, diarrhea, and eventually, death. A garlic odor is frequently found in people who have been exposed to arsenic and can be found in their breath and tissue fluids. Researchers have found garlic to be useful when combating the effects of arsenic.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inherited disorder where patients are unable to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. It is extremely important for people who have this disorder to be careful to avoid food containing phenylalanine, especially those that contain the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is found in diet soda.
When left untreated, PKU can lead to intellectual disability, seizures, and behavioral problems. There are several countries that screen newborns for this disorder, allowing parents to start immediate treatment. Interestingly, a side effect of PKU is a musty odor that has been described as “mouse-like”.Related: 15 Diseases You May Not Realize Are Still in Existence
5. Typhoid Fever
In 1976, a medical journal published an article stating that patients who had typhoid fever emitted a smell that resembled freshly baked bread. Although smelling like a bakery may sound pleasant, typhoid is anything but.
Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection caused by Salmonella typhi that can range from mild to severe. Symptoms can include gradual fevers, weakness, abdominal pain, constipation, and a rose-colored skin rash. While typhoid is not very common in developed countries, it is prevalent in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene. The disease is treatable with antibiotics, but some strains have become resistant.
Narcolepsy is a disease that causes people to fall asleep at any given moment. People who have narcolepsy can experience symptoms like sleepiness, hallucinations, sleep paralysis, cataplexy, and a loss of motor control when overstimulated. Although these symptoms sound specific to narcolepsy, people can go years without receiving a proper diagnosis of narcolepsy.
Narcolepsy is caused by a loss of hypocretin, a brain chemical that derives from the hypothalamus and works in the brain as an alert system that keeps us awake and regulates sleep. Like migraines, narcolepsy can also emit a special odor.
A study found dogs are able to smell the odor and warn patients up to five minutes before an attack, allowing people to get to a safe location, sit or lie down, or take other precautions. Dogs can also be trained to place themselves in front of patients so they can fall on the dog rather than on the floor. Currently, it is unknown exactly what causes the compound in odor change.
3. Bacterial Infections
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a bacterium that causes several types of infections in humans. The bacteria produce a blue-green color and are common among those with diabetes, cystic fibrosis, burn patients, and drug users. Considered an opportunistic bacteria, as infections occur after preexisting diseases or conditions, Pseudomonas can be present if you have had hot tub folliculitis.
There are two distinct ways to identify Pseudomonas: in a laboratory and its odor. It possesses a grape-like odor that is produced by a compound identified as 2-aminoacetophenone. Although there is no official way to identify Pseudomonas, 2-aminoacetophenone may prove to be very useful for identification, as it is present early in the growth cycle.Related: 10 Diseases That May Show Up on Your Skin
In the 1960s, nurses from a mental hospital began commenting on a peculiar odor emitting from the back of the hospital. Researchers began investigating the potential cause for the smell and thought it to be schizophrenia. The smell was described as “skunk-like” and remained on patients even after bathing, especially in those with catatonia.
A study done on schizophrenia patients’ sweat showed that a panel of human odor testers, as well as trained rats, could sense the unknown odor in the sweat of schizophrenia patients. Years later, the compound was identified as trans-3-methyl-2-hecenoic acid.
This was a major discovery, as a physical link to a mental illness was now able to be identified. However, other researchers were unable to identify or confirm the link. In 2005, a team of researchers found that it was a global variation in body odor that may be unique to those with schizophrenia rather than a single compound.
1. Parkinson’s Disease
Joy Milne, a retired nurse, was convinced her husband Lee was emitting a certain smell. Six years later, Lee was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and it was then that Milne realized, after meeting other Parkinson’s disease patients, what the musky smell was.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that results in loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. The disease can lead to tremors, slow movement, and problems with walking. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s, but there are treatments available to reduce symptoms.
Milne is currently working with researchers to conduct studies on the smell associated with the disease and the possibility of creating a new diagnostic test for Parkinson’s disease. The test can be considered revolutionary, as there is currently no definitive test for the disease, aside from observing patients who show symptoms.Related: 6 Diseases Caused by a Lack of Sleep