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Toxic shock syndrome

2-minute read

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a very rare complication of infection from bacteria. It is often caused by the staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. The bacteria release toxins into the bloodstream which cause symptoms of shock. The toxins can also damage organs and body tissue, which can cause death if left untreated.

TSS can affect anyone. It is more common among women when they are menstruating, but there is no evidence that tampons cause TSS. It is caused by bacteria.

There are several ways you can help lower your chance of developing TSS, these include:

  • washing your hands before and after inserting a tampon
  • use a tampon with the lowest absorbency for your menstrual flow
  • alternating tampons with sanitary pads every so often during your period
  • changing the tampons as often as advised on the pack — about every 4 to 8 hours
  • never inserting more than one tampon at a time
  • making sure you remove the last tampon at the end of your period
  • using sanitary pads at night

Recognising the signs

TSS can cause a number of symptoms, including:

TSS is treated in a hospital, using antibiotics and providing support to the other functions of the body that have been affected. Treatment is normally successful if TSS is detected early on.

If you have any of these symptoms you should contact your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria) for further advice.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about toxic shock syndrome, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).


SA Health (Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) - including symptoms, treatment and prevention), Mayo Clinic (Toxic shock syndrome), Jean Hailes (About the menstrual cycle), The Conversation (Toxic shock syndrome is rare - be vigilant but not alarmed)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2019

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