What is toxic shock syndrome?
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.
What are the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome?
TSS can cause a number of symptoms, including:
- a sudden high temperature (40°C or above)
- aching muscles
- low blood pressure
- red eyes, mouth and throat
- a red rash like sunburn found on the hands and feet that peels
If you have any of these symptoms you should contact your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for further advice.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
What causes toxic shock syndrome?
TSS is not caused by tampons, though staph bacteria live in the vagina and there is a higher chance of TSS during a period. It is important to replace tampons regularly and always wash your hands before inserting a tampon.
TSS can also happen after a burn or surgery, from a skin infection, after childbirth or after a serious nosebleed.
How is toxic shock syndrome treated?
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.
Can toxic shock syndrome be prevented?
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
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Last reviewed: August 2021