Toxic shock syndrome is a serious condition every woman needs to be aware of. It’s a rare but very serious infection that needs immediate medical attention, so it’s important to know the signs and symptoms as soon as they start. Although TSS can occur in anyone, it’s often linked to those who wear tampons during menstruation. If you don’t know much about TSS, we’re letting you in on 20 things every woman should know from what causes TSS to how you can prevent it.
What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria entering the body and releasing harmful toxins. The toxins enter the bloodstream, which then spread to the body’s organs, including your liver, kidneys, lungs and heart. Toxic shock syndrome can progress rapidly and lead to the failure of these organs, causing severe damage, illness and even death.
What Causes Toxic Shock Syndrome?
Toxic shock syndrome is caused by staphylococcus (staph) or streptococcus (strep) bacteria. These bacteria normally live on the skin or in the nose or mouth without causing harm, but if they get deeper into the body and enter the bloodstream, that’s when toxins can be released.
Recent research has shown that TSS occurs when both bacteria and oxygen enter the vaginal canal. Internal menstrual care products can introduce oxygen into the vagina, which may create a breeding ground for bacteria and can cause TSS. Tampons that are left in the body over a long period of time may encourage the bacteria to grow. When blood flow is light, tampons can stick to the vaginal walls, causing tiny abrasions when they’re removed. TSS is also more likely to recur in those who have had it before, so avoid using tampons if this is the case.
Toxic shock syndrome can occasionally develop as a complication after surgery or childbirth. You may also be more at risk for TSS if you’ve had a recent respiratory infection, such as sinusitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis or pneumonia.
11 Toxic Shock Syndrome Signs and Symptoms
1. Fever and high temperature
3. Rapid drop in blood pressure (with lightheadedness and fainting)
4. Diarrhea or vomiting
6. Sunburn-like rash on any part of the body, especially the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
7. Muscle aches
10. Peeing less than usual
11. Feeling thirsty
When to See a Doctor
Call your doctor immediately if you have signs of toxic shock syndrome as it requires immediate emergency care in the hospital. If you experience TSS symptoms while using a tampon, remove it right away and inform the emergency department that you were wearing a tampon when the symptoms started.
How is Toxic Shock Syndrome Treated?
Toxic shock syndrome cannot be treated at home and requires hospital care. It may be treated by:
- Antibiotics through intravenous drip (through a vein)
- Intravenous fluid to treat shock and prevent organ failure
- Heart medications in those with very low blood pressure
- Dialysis may be required in those who develop kidney failure
- Supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation to assist with breathing
- Surgical cleaning of an infected wound
5 Tips to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome
1. Change Your Tampons Regularly
When you’re menstruating, change your tampons regularly, at least every 4 hours to 8 hours, or more frequently if your flow is heavy. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after inserting the tampon and only unwrap the tampon if you’re going to use it immediately. You also should not wear tampons if you have a skin infection near your genitals.
2. Ensure You’re Wearing the Proper Tampon Size
Make sure to use the right size tampon for your flow. Choose ones with the lowest absorbency that will handle your menstrual flow and avoid using super-absorbent tampons unless you really need them. If your flow is light, use pantyliners or pads and always wear a nighttime pad when you sleep instead of a tampon.
3. Try a Menstrual Cup
The risk of TSS is never zero with any period product, but a clean, properly-used menstrual cup makes the chance of getting TSS very small. Be sure to read the user guide for your menstrual cup and follow the instructions for cleaning and use. You should thoroughly wash your hands prior to insertion and removal and wash your menstrual cup 2-3 times per day (every 10 to 12 hours). If you experience any discomfort when using a menstrual cup, discontinue use and contact your doctor.
4. Set a Timer
Even if you have the best intentions to change your tampon every 4-8 hours, it can be easy to forget, especially if you have a busy day. Set a timer on your phone to go off every 4 hours when you’re menstruating. If your tampon isn’t ready to be changed, set it for a few hours more to check it again and take it out after 8 hours at most.
5. Talk to Your Daughter So She’s Aware of The Risks
Toxic shock syndrome can be very scary and although it’s rare, it’s very important for all women to know about in case they start experiencing symptoms. Let your daughter know about the signs and risks of TSS to ensure she seeks immediate care if necessary.
Toxic shock syndrome is no joke and requires immediate medical attention. Be sure to know the signs and symptoms of TSS so you can seek help as soon as possible if need be.
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