Don't Be "Toxic" Shocked

A young womanAccording to the National Organization of Rare Disorders, toxic shock syndrome occurs in about one in 100,000 menstruating women. Today’s statistics are a product of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributing toxic shock syndrome incidents to high-absorbency tampons and those that contained polyester foam and cross-linked carboxymethylcellulose. Tampons and these materials led to an overgrowth of staph aureus. Toxic shock syndrome is caused by a toxin that is produced by some types of staphylococcus bacteria. So, this is why mom told you never to leave one in too long.


One in three of us have this bacteria living on or in our bodies (whether that’s in our armpits, groins or vaginas) but, when certain strains of it grow in a person without the antibodies to fight them, toxic shock syndrome can occur. The larger and more absorbent your tampons are, the more at risk you may be. But before you go tossing your tampons, keep in mind that diaphragms, menstrual cups and contraception sponges may carry the same risks. Changing your tampon every four to six hours, even on light days, will help reduce your risk. Switching to sanitary napkins will also reduce your risk.


Since toxic shock syndrome is an infection, the signs and symptoms may be similar to infections you’ve experienced before. Symptoms include fever, low blood pressure, vomiting, rash, fatigue, headache and muscle aches. 

Upon further testing, your physician may note decreased kidney function, disturbances in blood clotting, increased liver enzymes and respiratory distress. In some cases, confusion and seizures may occur.


While rare, toxic shock syndrome can be fatal, if left untreated. If you experience any of the above symptoms after using tampons, or after a surgery or skin injury, contact your physician. Possible treatments may include medication to stabilize blood pressure, removal of foreign object (tampon), wound care, I.V. fluids for rehydration and/or antibiotics to fight the infection.

Talk with your primary care physician or gynecologist about toxic shock syndrome and how to prevent it.