How To Identify Signs Of Toxic Shock Syndrome

The list of period symptoms — so long and grim — could go tit for tat with the Reaper's to-do list, so it's not too difficult to understand how symptoms of something much more nefarious could be mistaken as being just a particularly rough period.

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition caused by a bacterial infection that releases toxins into the bloodstream (per Johns Hopkins Medicine). The most common culprits of TSS include the Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, and Clostridium sordellii bacteria.

While women of reproductive age account for nearly half of TSS cases, the Mayo Clinic reports that the remainder involve children, men, and postmenopausal women. WebMD notes that while tampons are the most common cause, bacteria that cause toxic shock syndrome can also be introduced to the body during or after childbirth or surgery, through a burn or open wound, or through the use of a diaphragm, cervical cap, or menstrual sponge.

What are the symptoms of TSS?

TSS presents in the body differently, varying from person to person. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, muscle aches, rash, low blood pressure, seizures, and organ failure (per Healthline). A person may also experience a reddening of the eyes, mouth, or throat.

Dr. Erin Clark, an obstetrician-gynecologist, states via University of Utah Health that TSS is rare, only affecting between three and six people per 100,000 each year. However, because the condition can be fatal and the symptoms of TSS can easily be attributed to something much less serious, it is important to know the causes of TSS and what to look for.

The symptoms of toxic shock syndrome come on suddenly and escalate rapidly, so if you experience any of these symptoms after tampon use, surgery, or skin injury, it is of paramount importance that you contact a doctor or seek medical attention as soon as possible, warns Healthline.

Diagnosis, treatment, and prevention

Diagnosis of TSS usually starts with ruling out other potential illnesses. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, diagnostic tests could include both blood cultures and tests, urine tests, and lumbar punctures (also known as spinal taps).

Treatment for toxic shock syndrome will vary depending on the ways the illness has affected your body. It could include intravenous antibiotics and fluids, blood products, dialysis, heart medications, and surgical cleaning if an infected wound is involved. A patient may also need supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

Prevention, as always, is the best option. When it comes to tampon maintenance, the Mayo Clinic recommends changing your tampon at least every four to eight hours, and doing your best to alternate between tampons and pads so that you can give your body a break. Also, it may sound strange, but reach for the tampons with the lowest possible absorbency as those are the least likely to cause TSS.

If you experience a minor cut or injury that breaks the skin, such as a scrape or blister, be sure to clean the area with soap and water, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Draining or open wounds should be cleaned and then covered with dry, clean bandages until they have healed. People with open wounds or active infections should avoid pools, hot tubs, and natural bodies of water. MyHealthfinder advises following your doctor's instructions to prevent infection after undergoing surgery.