what you should know about toxic shock syndrome


Toxic shock syndrome and tampons – what you should know

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare and potentially life threatening disease that involves fever, shock and problems with several body organs. Some recent cases have made the news and cited tampon use as the cause. Here is what you should know about TSS.

What is toxic shock syndrome?

TSS is caused by a toxin produced by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus that live in the skin and mucous membranes.  

TSS was first identified in 1978 and the earliest cases involved women who used tampons during their periods. Today, less than half of TSS cases are linked to tampon use. TSS can also occur with skin infections, burns and after surgery affecting women, children, and men.

What are symptoms of toxic shock syndrome?

Keeping in mind that TSS is rare, but is considered a medical emergency. The symptoms usually appear quickly and can include the following: 

  • fever
  • low blood pressure
  • rash that can look similar to a sunburn
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • feelings of disorientation/confusion
  • chills
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • dizziness. 

If you have these symptoms – especially during your period while using tampons or if you have had recent surgery – seek immediate medical attention.

TSS and tampon use

There is no harm in continuing to use tampons during your period. Your TSS risk is the same whether you use cotton tampons or synthetic alternatives. The overall risk for contracting TSS is low. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 59 cases of TSS were reported in the U.S. in 2014. Women and girls who choose to use tampons can help prevent TSS by following these recommendations: 

  • using the lowest absorbency possible for the amount of bleeding
  • changing tampons often (best to avoid using one tampon for eight hours or more).
  • taking a break from tampon use during your period (such as not wearing a tampon at night)

If you are concerned about TSS, or you have had it in the past, you can use pads or a menstrual cup, which are growing in popularity. Additional types of period protection, such as organic pads, cloth pads, sea sponges and period underwear can be a more environmentally friendly source of period protection.


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