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Old 04-05-2011, 01:55 PM
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Ulcers that reek: What do they smell like? Why so bad?

From the Wall Street Journal review of a book about a supposedly miraculous cure:

Ann Mattingly, the 39-year-old widowed sister of Washington's mayor, Thomas Carbery, had suffered for years from what appears to have been advanced and incurable breast cancer. By March 1824 she was paralyzed on the left side and vomiting "vast quantities of feculent blood"; she was also covered with ulcers exuding such a terrible odor that it was difficult for even family members to be near her. Her body, as her brother bluntly put it, was "a wreck of sickness and corruption."
Ok, I've heard other references about ulcers that smell bad.

But why do they smell bad? What does ulcer in this context mean? Why would it smell so bad? And what does it smell like? Can anything be done about it?

I hesitate to ask or search what "feculent blood" is.

Last edited by No Wikipedia Cites; 04-05-2011 at 01:55 PM.
Old 04-05-2011, 02:05 PM
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There are several types of ulcers. Most people think of stomach ulcers, but you can also have skin ulcers -- basically sores on the skin. Like any bad infection, they can smell terrible with the infected and dying tissue, plus bacteria.
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Old 04-05-2011, 02:18 PM
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Skin ulcers (i.e. deep sores that slowly or never heal) can reek for at least two reasons. First, they may be infected with a bacteria that gives off foul smelling gas (as a waste product of its metabolism). Or, second, they may stink because they contain dead tissue (as for example may occur if the ulcer has formed because of poor circulation).

"Feculent blood" is not a term I've ever heard used, nor does it describe any common symptom, syndrome, or complication of which I'm aware. The key word is "feculent". It does not mean composed of feces, even though it smells as if it is. Rather, "feculent" usually is describing a situation where bacteria normally found in the large intestine (colon) have "overgrown" another, usually sterile, area. The stomach is a classic place for it to occur and when it does, it usually is a reflection of extreme sluggishness, if not outright paralysis, of stomach movement (gastric peristalsis). In other words, a key defense against bacteria taking up residence in the stomach is its ceaseless digestive movement (peristalsis). In the absence of such movement, bacteria don't get pumped out. If bacteria do overgrow the stomach, and if they are so-called anaerobes normally found in the colon, they have the ability to make the stomach contents smell (and even look) like shit (literally and figuratively).

The above is similar, but not identical to, the situation where the stomach is not emptying, or empties very slowly only after many hours or even days. When that occurs, the food sitting in the stomach begins to rot. Hence the aroma. Rotten eggs is a typical term used to describe it, but not usually feculent.

There are a number of diseases associated with such a lack of stomach emptying, the proper term for which is, btw, gastroparesis. Common causes of gastroparesis include diabetic nerve damage and surgery for ulcers (where the vagus nerve is deliberately cut - not only does the vagus control gastric motility, it also sends the signal for acid release).
Old 04-05-2011, 03:00 PM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 896
I think the subject had skin ulclers, that's what we are talking about

But why does dead tissue and bacteria smell so bad? What does it smell like? I just dont have much experience smelling ulcerated flesh.
Old 04-05-2011, 03:07 PM
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Location: Alberta Canada
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Originally Posted by sassyfras View Post
I think the subject had skin ulclers, that's what we are talking about

But why does dead tissue and bacteria smell so bad? What does it smell like? I just dont have much experience smelling ulcerated flesh.
Basically it smells like rotten meat because that is more or less what it is.

Last edited by Canadjun; 04-05-2011 at 03:08 PM.
Old 04-05-2011, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Canadjun View Post
Basically it smells like rotten meat because that is more or less what it is.
And we can blame the smell of rotten meat at least mostly on the chemical compounds putrescine and cadaverine, which are byproducts of the rotting process. It's hard to forget those very descriptive names.

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