What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome  (TSS)  is a sudden, rare, and potentially life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. 

TSS can affect men and women alike, however, it is mostly associated with women who menstruate. Toxic shock syndrome may occur from two different kinds of bacteria. The most common bacteria is staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. The syndrome can also be caused by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. 

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone of all ages. About half of all cases of toxic shock syndrome with staphylococci bacteria occur in women of menstruating age (most often in women ages 15 to 25 years of age who use tampons). Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome occurs in people of all ages. 

While toxic shock syndrome is often associated with the usage of highly absorbent tampons that women leave in for too long while on their period, it is important to be cautious and aware of additional factors as well. Toxic shock syndrome has been linked with having cuts and burns on the skin, recent surgery, using diaphragms and absorbent tampons as well as having a viral infection (i.e. chicken pox or flu). 

Signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include but are not limited to the following: 

  • 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. Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent toxic shock syndrome. Consider using sanitary pads instead of tampons at night and make sure to take out/change your tampons every four to eight hours. If your period is particularly heavy, changing pads more often is recommended as well as  using tampons with the lowest absorbency required for your flow. 

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