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Toxic shock syndrome

Overview of toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare, life-threatening illness that can occur as a result of certain infections. It can affect multiple systems in the body and occur in people of any age and gender. However, it is often associated with tampon use, which puts women at increased risk.

If you suspect you have a tampon infection, our experienced team of gynecologists at Dignity Health will ensure you receive personalized treatment. Find a Doctor near you today for trusted care.


Contact your doctor at Dignity Health if you experience any of these symptoms of toxic shock syndrome:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Low blood pressure
  • Widespread rash that looks like sunburn, especially on the hands and feet
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Reduced urine output
  • Redness of the eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Seizures


The most common cause of toxic shock syndrome is Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. It can also be caused by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

Risk factors

Toxic shock syndrome occurs when certain bacteria release toxins into the bloodstream. Some factors that can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome include:

  • Recent childbirth or surgery
  • Cuts or wounds on your skin
  • Nasal packing (to treat nosebleed)
  • Infection with Staphylococcus aureus (also called a “staph infection”)
  • The use of intravenous drugs
  • Recent viral infection, including the flu or chickenpox
  • Tampon use, especially the use of super-absorbent tampons that stay in place for a long time


There are a number of options available to you to help prevent TSS, including:

  • Careful cleaning and monitoring of all wounds: Watch for any signs of infection, including redness, foul odor or discharge, and increased tenderness. Notify your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
  • Changing menstrual pads and tampons frequently: Using menstrual pads, instead of tampons, may decrease the risk of tampon toxic shock. Change pads and tampons every few hours, as stated on the packaging.
  • Using female barrier contraception correctly: If you use a diaphragm, cervical cap, or sponge for birth control, carefully wash your hands prior to insertion and follow the manufacturer’s directions regarding how long the device can remain in place.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.