Getting Real About Toxic Shock Syndrome

Getting Real About Toxic Shock Syndrome

You might have discussed toxic shock syndrome in your middle school health class, or maybe you’ve just seen the warning signs on your tampon labels. Do you know what it really is, though? Here’s what you should know about TSS.

What Is It?

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, but very serious medical condition that’s caused when staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria, gets into the bloodstream and produces toxins.1 The condition is commonly linked to tampons, but can actually affect men and children, too.1 The infection occurs when bacteria enters the body through an opening in the skin, like a sore or open wound. For women, some doctors believe that if a tampon is left in too long, it can attract bacteria, while others believe that the fibers in the tampon itself can scratch the vagina, creating an opening for the bacteria to enter the bloodstream.1

What Are the Symptoms?

Serious complications associated with the condition include liver failure, kidney failure, heart failure or shock. Symptoms can indicate the presence of one of these complications, and signal that you should be seeking immediate medical attention.1  These include sudden high fever, low blood pressure, vomiting or diarrhea, rash, muscle aches, headaches, and more.2

Be Alert

If you experience these symptoms and have recently used a high-absorbency tampon or have an open wound, see your doctor. TSS often progresses quickly, and can be fatal, so it’s important to be aware of the causes and symptoms so you can seek medical attention immediately.

Should I Be Concerned?

TSS is a big deal, but you don’t have to live in fear of it. If you use tampons, be sure to read the labels, change them frequently, and try to use pads when you anticipate going a long stretch without changing, such as overnight.2 Use the lowest absorbency tampon possible, which will differ depending upon your flow. If you have a heavy period that requires a superabsorbency tampon routinely, consider talking to a doctor about treatment options for heavy periods.




  1. Toxic Shock Syndrome. Accessed January 2, 2019.
  2. Mayo Clinic. Toxic Shock Syndrome. Accessed January 2, 2019.