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Toxic Shock Syndrome Prevention

Updated on July 25, 2009

Toxic Shock Syndrome is something most women have heard of, yet something which many don’t completely understand. Personally, I believe this is the fault of ignorant mothers and teachers who, unwittingly, pass inaccurate information from one generation to the next. I am often shocked to meet a thirty-something woman who thinks TSS is simply a random physiological reaction to the insertion of a foreign object. Let me say this as bluntly as possible: if that were the case, sexual intercourse would be rather a dangerous activity. It’s not the object itself which poses the risk, but the way certain types of bacteria interact with it.

What causes TSS?

Simply stated, Toxic Shock Syndrome is the body reacting to a foreign toxin and going into shock as a result. While this article relates to menstrual TSS, please realize that TSS can affect any part of the body, and it can present in both men and women; it’s not a “woman’s illness” despite being frequently associated with tampon usage. TSS is typically caused by a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (this is a perfectly normal strain of staph; one which typically lives on your body without incident) or Streptococcus pyogenes (much less common and far less friendly).

Tampons alone do not cause toxic shock syndrome, but because these types of bacteria can be found in the vaginas of some women, and because tampons have been found to increase the risk of developing TSS, using tampons does put these women at greater risk. Unfortunately, without undergoing a swab and culture, there is no way of knowing if you’re one of these women, as having the bacteria present wouldn’t necessarily mean you are ill. Also, the level of tampon absorbency is another factor, so you ought to be using the smallest tampons you can manage.

Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Streptococcus pyogenes TSS usually affects people who’ve already got an existing skin problem and the symptoms tend to be localized initially. It starts out with pain and swelling at the site, and then moves into the typical Staphylococcus aureus TSS symptoms, which include a rash, fever greater than 102F, drop in blood pressure, confusion, organ failure (typically in more than one system), coma and, unfortunately, possibly death.

Treatment of Toxic Shock Syndrome

If these symptoms are being experienced during menstruation, the first thing you need to do is remove the tampon – the longer it’s left in, the worse symptoms are likely to get. Step number two is check yourself into a hospital immediately for monitoring, as you need to get on top of the symptoms as they occur, rather then subject yourself to possible organ failure. At best, you’ll be treated with antibiotics and recover in a few weeks. If you’re very ill, you’ll need to be in the intensive care unit for awhile. And if you don’t seek treatment at all, you can die within a few hours.

Prevention of Toxic Shock Syndrome

The best way to avoid TSS is to avoid tampons or to at least use Organic Tampons which may reduce the risk of TSS. Some women aren’t going to be keen on that idea, as many women hate to use maxi pads, but there is good news: The Mooncup is a fabulous, eco-friendly tampon alternative that has been around since the 1930s and has never been associated with TSS. (That said, it is still recommended to empty and clean your Mooncup 4 times a day to be on the safe side.)


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    • blondey profile image

      Blondey Hubpages 6 years ago

      Thanks for the information, (what exactly is a moon cup? You did not describe. I'll google it now :))

      I agree that toxic shock syndrome is not readily known about by many many women- including me until now. I think it's wiser to use a very absorbant pad. I used to THINK I needed tampons because of very heavy flow....but I looked at the cheap pads I'm using, and I THINK buying the most expensive and absorbant- maybe Always, not sure which is best yet, is better and okay. I think using cheap tampons and pads isn't necessary and still may not work. hmmm