Authored by JoannaRasmuson

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Toxic Shock Syndrome

June 3, 2019 | OB/GYN

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a condition caused by certain strains of bacteria that release toxins into the bloodstream. The strains that cause toxic shock syndrome are staph (Staphylococcus aureus) bacteria and strep (Streptococcus pyogenes) bacteria. Although TSS is rare, it is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that can result in the failure of vital organs, such as the liver, lungs or heart.


Risk Factors

Historically, TSS was most commonly associated with the use of super-absorbent tampons or using a tampon for longer than the recommended time without changing it. However, changes in the materials tampons are made of and usage habits have made this less common, and today the number of tampon-induced TSS has declined to 50 percent. Despite the association between tampon use and TSS, it is important to know that anyone is at risk for TSS, not just menstruating women. You are at a higher risk for TSS if you:


  • Use vaginal contraceptive devices such as diaphragms or contraceptive sponges
  • Have a vaginal infection
  • Have recently given birth
  • Had a recent surgery
  • Have a wound infection
  • Have packings, such as those used to stop a nosebleed, in your body
  • Have a bad burn
  • Have a staph infection


The symptoms of TSS involve many parts of the body and the onset is very sudden. Symptoms may include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden high fever (102°F and above) and chills
  • Watery diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a bad sunburn or red dots on the skin
  • Dizziness, light-headedness or fainting
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Redness in the eyes (conjunctivitis)
  • Peeling of the skin on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands
  • Disorientation and confusion

TSS can progress rapidly and create complications, including shock, organ failure and even death.


Treatment and Prevention

If you think you have TSS, seek immediate medical attention—you may need to be hospitalized. If you are menstruating, your doctor will remove your tampon and any vaginal contraceptive devices; if TSS is the result of an infected wound, your doctor will deeply clean and treat the wounded area. In both cases, you will need antibiotics and fluids, as well as possible medication to raise your blood pressure if it is low.

Fortunately, you can prevent TSS. For example, if you use tampons, change your tampon every 4-8 hours; you can also wear a pad a night to avoid going long periods of time without changing your tampon. Reinfection is common, however, so it is important for menstruating girls and women to avoid using tampons if they have already had TSS. Quickly and deeply cleaning any wounds is also critical in preventing TSS. Talk to your doctor to learn more tips for TSS prevention.


Obstetricians/gynecologists at Revere Health OB/GYN provide a full range of healthcare services to women throughout all stages of their lives including; puberty, child-bearing years, menopause.



Although Cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome Have Declined, It Remains a Life-Threatening Illness.” University of Kentucky.


“Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).” John Hopkins Medicine.


“Toxic Shock Syndrome – Symptoms and Causes.”, by the American Academy of Family Physicians.


“Toxic Shock Syndrome.” National Organization for Rare Disorders.

The Live Better Team


The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.