LivingWhat is toxic shock syndrome?

What is toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a disease caused by the infection of a bacterium , Staphylococcus aureus . Its incidence is very low; but, despite being a rare syndrome, it can have very serious consequences.

Its prevalence is between 1 and 5 cases per 100,000 inhabitants ; However, toxic shock syndrome has gained social relevance due to some serious cases that have transpired on social networks due to the abusive use of intimate hygiene products for menstruation, such as tampons and menstrual cups . For example, the case of the model Lauren Wasser was famous, who suffered the amputation of both legs after a serious case of infection by this bacterium. Recently a new serious case has been reported that also required an amputation, in this case, of both feet and almost all the phalanges of the fingers to the French Sandrine Graneau, 36 years old.

Should we extract from these cases that intimate hygiene products are dangerous? How to recognize toxic shock syndrome, how to prevent it, and how is it treated?

To answer the first question, it must be remembered that toxic shock syndrome is extremely rare; on the other hand, less than half of the cases are associated with intimate hygiene products. In the opinion of Dr. Miguel Ángel Herráiz, a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics, there are no reasons to fear using tampons, pads or menstrual cups. Also, toxic shock syndrome occurs most often from burns, open wounds, or surgery.

Next we will dwell on the causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment of toxic shock.


As we mentioned, toxic shock syndrome is produced by the proliferation of Staphylococcus aureus , a bacterium that is found naturally in our body : on the skin or in mucous membranes such as the vagina. This means that not only women, but also men and children can suffer from toxic shock syndrome.

Some environments can favor the proliferation of this bacteria that, inside the body, can release a toxin, which is what produces what we know as toxic shock. Finally, in severe cases, this toxin can cause necrosis (tissue death), leading to the need to amputate damaged tissues, as occurred in the viral cases mentioned at the beginning of this article. In very serious cases, in addition to necrosis, it can cause multi-organ failure; and in extremely serious cases, even death.

Not all people who develop TSS end up suffering from necrosis (and, therefore, the need to resort to extreme medical procedures, such as amputation); In many cases, the immune system removes the toxin from the body. Only rarely does the toxin affect tissue in this aggressive way.

What can cause toxic shock syndrome?

Any delicate event that can introduce this bacterium into the body: open wounds, surgical procedures, burns, childbirth, pharyngitis, during a varicella-zoster infection and by bleeding absorbing materials such as gauze, which also includes products intended for feminine hygiene, such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups .

The latter represent 50% of all cases of toxic shock.

Again: going through any of these events (which we have to experience with a certain frequency, especially women, who menstruate once a month) does not mean that we are at risk of suffering from TSS, since it only occurs very rarely.

In addition, even if toxic shock syndrome occurs, it only becomes a serious case if it is not treated after the first signs of infection. What are these signs?


Symptoms of toxic shock may go unnoticed at first. They include high fever, dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, drop in blood pressure, headache, and muscle aches.

The first thing a healthcare professional will do when a toxic shock is suspected is to remove any foreign objects from inside the body (such as a tampon that has spent many hours in the vagina. Therefore, it is important to change them often: a maximum of 4 to 8 hours) to avoid the proliferation of these bacteria.

Toxic shock is diagnosed by performing a blood culture, a blood culture, of the specific bacteria that causes it, Staphylococcus aureus .


Although unlikely, toxic shock is serious because it works quickly. Therefore, early diagnosis is essential to avoid further consequences.

If there are no complications, treatment consists of applying intravenous medications : specific antibiotics aimed at ending the infection. Furthermore, if other types of damage have occurred as a consequence of the shock, such as organ failure, the treatment will also require specific medications aimed at alleviating these consequences; for example, medicines to regulate blood pressure.

How to prevent toxic shock syndrome?

The bacteria that cause it are in our body naturally. Therefore, we cannot totally prevent a toxic shock syndrome; But we can reduce the chances (even more) of it happening to us. The way to prevent TSS is to maintain proper hygiene of open wounds, bleeding, and mucous membranes in the body. With regard to products aimed at menstruation, it is recommended not to wear the same tampon for more than 8 hours in a row and to adapt the level of absorption to each woman.

Dr. Miguel Ángel Herráiz affirms that, rather than causing it, ” the abusive use of intimate hygiene products can aggravate an existing case of toxic shock syndrome.”

In short, if we frequently use products such as tampons and the menstrual cup, we should not be afraid of toxic shock syndrome, as long as we respect the recommendations for use and pay attention to health professionals before any wound or surgical procedure that we submit.

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