Women’s Health FAQs

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Publication Date: January 28, 2020

By: Rachel Grimsley, (RN, BSN, MSN) Volunteer Health Officer


What is toxic shock syndrome?


Toxic shock syndrome  (TSS)  is a serious infection resulting from staphylococcus aureus bacteria and streptococcus bacteria. TSS can be life-threatening and develops quickly [1]

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone of all ages: postmenopausal women, men, and children [1]. Staphylococci bacteria cause TSS in roughly 50% of cases in menstruating women [1]. Anyone of any age can develop TSS from Streptococcal infections, especially if you have cuts or burns on your skin, had surgery recently with an open wound, use sponges, diaphragms, or superabsorbent tampons or menstrual cups, or even if you have an infection like influenza or the chicken pox (varicella) [1].  

Signs and symptoms of TSS can include [1]: 

  • A sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headaches

Toxic shock syndrome progresses quickly and can be fatal.

Thankfully, the manufacturers of tampons sold in the US have stopped using the materials that were associated with TSS [1]. The US Food and Drug Association (FDA) has also required labeling for how absorbent tampons are with guidelines on the boxes.

Here are a few more things you can do to prevent toxic shock syndrome [1]:

  • Consider using sanitary pads instead of tampons at night
  • Change your tampons every four to eight hours
  • If your period is particularly heavy, changing pads more often is recommended
  • Use tampons with the lowest absorbency required for your flow

TSS is a serious infection, share what TSS is with your friends and family, especially young women who are just starting to menstruate, and we can prevent the devastating effects TSS causes.


[1] Mayo Clinic (2022, March 23). Toxic Shock Syndrome. Retrieved from Toxic shock syndrome – Symptoms & causes – Mayo Clinic

Updated 12/18/2023 by Rachel Grimsley, RN, BSN, MSN, Nurse Writer

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