What is TSS or Toxic Shock Syndrome? Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that is caused by certain strains of bacteria that produce poisons or toxins. These toxins can get into your bloodstream from the vagina and affect your organs such as the kidney or liver. If you’re wondering what is TSS, you might see it happening if you use tampons during your menstruation. Most toxic shock syndrome symptoms happen quite suddenly and you might only notice it later. In this blog, we will cover what is TSS, toxic shock syndrome symptoms, things that cause toxic shock syndrome, and how to manage and treat toxic shock syndrome.
How is It Caused?
Most cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome are caused by a toxin produced by a bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, or streptococcus pyogenes. Under normal circumstances, these bacteria anyway live on your skin and in your mucous membranes without causing any damage. However, under certain conditions, some strains of these harmful bacteria may grow rapidly and produce toxins.
When you are using a tampon during menstruation, staphylococcus aureus may become trapped in your vagina and enter the uterus via the cervix. In this case, the bacteria grows inside you and produces TSS toxins, which then enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body.
This is likely to happen in the following circumstances:
- You haven’t changed your tampon for many hours, causing bacteria to accumulate and grow on it
- You are having a light flow, but you’ve used a super-absorbent tampon. In this case, the tampon absorbs bacteria as well and causes them to enter the bloodstream
- Your tampon is super-light and sticks to your vaginal walls, thus causing tiny cuts and abrasions. Those tiny wounds are open to bacteria entering as a result.
While thinking “What is TSS?”, you might also be wondering if toxic shock syndrome is only associated with tampon usage and not sanitary pads. In that case, you would be partially wrong. While sanitary pads are less risky than tampons, you can still face toxic shock syndrome if you use them, especially if you don’t change them for a long time.
Other devices that also cause toxic shock syndrome are menstrual cups, cervical caps and diaphragms, especially if you leave them in your vagina for extended periods of time.
What are the Main Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms?
Toxic shock syndrome symptoms include:
- Skin rashes that you might mistake for sunburns
- Skin peeling on the feet and hands
- Sore throat
- Muscular pain
- A drop in blood pressure
- Red eyes
Toxic shock syndrome symptoms tend to occur within days of bacteria entering your bloodstream. This does not mean that you will get it every time you wear a tampon. Keep in mind the following guidelines for reducing the risk of toxic shock syndrome.
Reducing the Risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome
Now that you’ve gotten the answer to the question “What is TSS?”, learned toxic shock syndrome, and understood toxic shock syndrome tampon, let’s understand how to reduce the risks of toxic shock syndrome.
Since so many women use tampons, they are all likely to be at risk for it, although toxic shock syndrome is a rare condition and only 1 in 1,00,000 women experience it.
Here is how you can reduce the risk of toxic shock syndrome:
- Change your tampons or pads regularly (Keep 4 hours at the maximum that you can keep your tampon in)
- Avoid using super-absorbent tampons if you have a very light flow. If your flow is heavier, focus on changing your tampons frequently instead of using absorbent tampons
- Only unwrap a tampon if you are going to use it immediately. Otherwise throw it away
- Do not touch or handle a blood-soaked tampon more often that you need to
- Be very gentle when inserting and removing your tampon. Rough handling can cause tiny cuts on the corner of your vagina, which can invite bacteria into the uterus
- Switch to sanitary pads if you are keeping your tampon overnight
- Do not wear any tampons when you do not have your period. Wearing a tampon without periods can lead to it scraping against the walls of your vagina and might lead to bacterial growth
- On the last and first day of your period, when your flow is light, try using a pantyliner or a sanitary pad
- When using vaginal contraceptives like cervical caps, sponges or diaphragms, ensure that you follow the directions
- If you have any tiny wounds/cuts near your vagina, ensure that you keep it clean. If you see any unusual redness or swelling in the vagina, notify your healthcare provider immediately.
Toxic shock syndrome is most likely to recur in someone who has already had it. If you are recovering from toxic shock syndrome, avoid wearing tampons entirely.
How is TSS diagnosed?
If you have seen any of the above symptoms, go to a healthcare provider. Some ways that a healthcare provider or a doctor can diagnose toxic shock syndrome are:
- Blood or urine tests to find out what kind of bacteria is present in your bloodstream
- A vaginal examination
- Obtain tissue culture from the vagina to analyse for the presence of Staphylococcus Aureus or Streptococcus bacteria
- CT scan or x-ray to check the health of your other organs.
Toxic Shock Syndrome can lead to death in around 30%-70% of all cases. If you have it, your best option is to get it treated immediately as it does not go away on its own.
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Last modified: May 12, 2023