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Toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) occurs when a bacteria (called staphylococcus aureus) releases poisonous toxins into the body's bloodstream. This will cause symptoms of shock. The toxins also damage organs and body tissue, which can cause death if left untreated.

TSS is usually linked to tampon use or childbirth, although men and children can also develop the condition if the bacteria gets into the bloodstream.

It is not fully understood how tampons cause TSS, although some research suggests it could be linked to the amount of time a higher absorbency tampon is left in the vagina. It is thought that bacterial toxins develop on the tampon and are then absorbed into the bloodstream.

It is important to remember that TSS is very rare and you shouldn’t stop using tampons, but you should follow the recommendations for changing them.

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

  • washing your hands before and after inserting a tampon
  • using low absorbency tampons if possible
  • alternating tampons with sanitary towels every so often during your period
  • changing the tampons as often as advised on the pack
  • never inserting more than one tampon
  • making sure you remove the last tampon at the end of your period
  • inserting a fresh tampon when going to bed and removing it when waking.

Recognising the signs

TSS can cause a number of symptoms, these include:

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 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).

Last reviewed: July 2015

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