The human body gives off a surprising variety of odors, which people spend a great deal of money and effort trying to mask or neutralize. A strange body or breath odor-different from the typical locker-room type of body odor with which most of us are familiar-could indicate a health problem. If you notice that your sweat has begun to smell sweet, you should bring it to your doctor's attention.
In the past, doctors followed their noses toward the source of many diseases. Unusual body odors can range from fish to rotten eggs to maple syrup or apples. Today, doctors still recognize that some diseases, like yeast infections, carry distinctive odors. For example, an uncommon metabolic disorder called maple syrup urine disease can cause a sweet body odor. The most common cause for sweet body odor is ketoacidosis, a complication of Type I diabetes.
With undiagnosed or inadequately controlled Type I diabetes, the body has trouble producing enough insulin to break down sugars for energy. Instead, the body burns fats. This leads to a buildup of acids called ketones in the blood and urine. The ketones can cause a distinctive fruity odor on your breath and body. It may be the first symptom that sends you to a doctor. Left untreated, ketoacidosis can lead to diabetic coma and even death.
Aside from the fruity body odor, symptoms of ketoacidosis include sustained thirst, loss of appetite, breathing problems, headache, fatigue, stupor or loss of consciousness, flushed face, dry skin and mouth, nausea and vomiting, muscle stiffness or pain, and if it goes on too long, you could slip into a diabetic coma and even die. That fruity body odor should be your first clue to see a doctor.
If your doctor suspects ketoacidosis or diabetes, he may test your blood sugar level, and if it is high, he may perform ketone testing, which uses a urine sample. Other tests for ketoacidosis measure blood pressure, amylase, arterial blood gas, blood glucose or potassium.
If you are not already receiving insulin, your doctor may prescribe it; if you are already on insulin, your doctor may adjust your dosage. If your ketoacidosis progresses far enough, you may be hospitalized and placed in fluid and electrolyte replacement therapy as well as insulin therapy. If diabetes is not the cause of your ketoacidosis, you will undergo further tests to pinpoint the cause, such as infection, reaction to medication or another underlying disease.