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Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Guide

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) and Periods

Do you want to learn more about toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and how you can prevent yourself from getting it? Of course you do, you want to do everything you can to keep yourself healthy and take care of your body.

Keep reading to find out what toxic shock syndrome is, what can cause TSS, and how to identify the symptoms.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

To begin with, TSS is very rare. The National Organization for Rare Disorders estimates that TSS related to tampon use occurs in about 1 in 100,000 menstruating people. According to WebMD, a third of all cases involve people under the age of 19, although a person with periods of any age can get toxic shock syndrome. Once you’ve had toxic shock syndrome, you are 30% more likely to get TSS again.

Toxic shock syndrome happens when an overgrowth of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus release toxins into the body. The bacteria live harmlessly on most women, usually inside their nose, mouth, on their skin, and even inside the vagina. However, when the bacteria gets deeper into the body it can cause problems by damaging tissues and organs.

Causes of Toxic Shock Syndrome

There are a handful of reasons why someone may contract toxic shock syndrome, one way is in relation to the products used during a monthly cycle. It can be caused by a tampon being left inside the vagina for too long, especially if you do not follow the guidelines on the tampon box which states the length of use (4-8 hours), or if you use ‘super-absorbent’ tampons.

Previous research shows that using organic tampons made purely of cotton significantly reduces the risk of toxic shock syndrome. However, research published in April 2018 shows that all tampons, including organic tampons and menstrual cups, have the potential to cause toxic shock syndrome. In the study, 11 types of tampons and 4 menstrual cups were used. The results showed tampons made with a mix of rayon and cotton produced the growth of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus slower than those composed of viscose with or without the addition of cotton, or cotton tampons alone.

A tampon (organic or not) saturated in menstrual blood is a welcoming place for bacteria to grow rapidly. When inserting and removing a tampon, microscopic tears can be made in the walls of the vagina. Bacteria is then more likely to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the ruptured blood vessels that the tiny tears have caused.

 Using menstrual sponges and female contraceptives, such as a diaphragm or a cervical cap, can lead to toxic shock syndrome. If the contraceptive device has been inside the vagina for too long (over 30 hours), or if a piece of the sponge has remained inside the vagina, this may lead to TSS.

According to WebMD, researchers have ruled out other personal hygiene items and practices such as douching, lubricants, and sprays as a cause for TSS. They have also said that toxic shock syndrome is not related to drug and alcohol use, underwear, or sexual activity.

Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome can happen quickly and can be fatal. It’s important to know the symptoms of TSS so you can get medical help quickly if needed.
TSS Symptoms
  • A fever above 103F / 39C -
  • Flu-like symptoms such as chills
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Flat red rash that looks like sunburn around the body
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Muscle pain/ ache
  • Your eyes and mouth begin to become redder (signs of a soft-tissue infection)
  • Bruising
  • Low urine output
  • Shedding skin on your palms and soles of feet.
  • Headache
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Low blood pressure

If a doctor believes you have TSS they may take a blood and urine sample to check for the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. Your vagina and cervix may also be swabbed to check for the bacteria. If required, a CT scan and x-rays may be carried out to see how affected your organs have been.

Treating Toxic Shock Syndrome

It’s likely that you will need to spend a few days in hospital to receive treatment for toxic shock syndrome. Treatment can include
IV antibiotics to stop the bacteria from growing, treat dehydration, shock, and organ damage.
Medication to regulate blood pressure
Blood transfusion
Dialysis if there is evidence of kidney failure
Oxygen to help with breathing
If your case of TSS is severe then surgery may be needed to remove dead tissue and to clean the area.

How to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome

The good news is that TSS can be avoided and there are things you can do to reduce the chances of you having toxic shock syndrome, such as

  • Wearing reusable period pants or pads
  • Following the instructions on the tampon box and not wearing a tampon for too long
  • Wearing the lowest absorbency tampon you can
  • Keep your tampon box (and tampons) in a cool and dry place to stop bacteria from growing
  • Wear a pad or liner on lighter days
  • Wash your hands before inserting a tampon

In Conclusion

The simple truth is we want to take care of our bodies during our menstrual cycle. We want to know that the products we are using are safe and are not going to cause a potentially fatal illness.

Understanding the causes and symptoms of TSS is important as you will need to seek medical advice urgently.

In light of current research, making the switch to reusable period pants or pads is a great decision to make in order to dramatically reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome.