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Understanding toxic shock syndrome & what it can do to your body

The rare-but-deadly medical condition can not only hit tampon-using women, but can also affect men, women, and children of all age groups.
toxic shock syndrome
It's time to prevent ourselves from the lethal toxic shock syndome. Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Sonakshi Kohli Updated: 22 May 2020, 13:00 pm IST
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You hear the term ‘toxic shock syndrome’ (TSS) and the first thing that comes to the mind if you’re completely unaware of its medical connotation is a potentially toxic ex that can stir up a rather difficult-to-fight medical condition.

However, no light-hearted joke can cover up the seriousness and the fatality of this super-serious medical condition.

Let’s get to know it first
“The toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a life-threatening condition that occurs due to the release of toxins (resulting from an overgrowth of the bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus or staph) into the bloodstream,” says Dr. Rajeshwari Pawar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Motherhood Hospital, Kharadi.

But, why does it happen?
“The main reason is the poison produced by staphylococcus aureus bacteria that makes this disease so deadly,” says Pawar.

“Basically, these bacteria tend to live on one’s skin or on the mucous membranes without causing any harm. But, some strains of bacteria overgrow and produce toxins,” she adds and explains that this bacteria may also get trapped in a woman’s vagina because of the use of tampons—especially when not changed from time to time—and menstrual cups. 

toxic shock syndrome
Sailing with a menstrual cup could sometimes give you toxic shock syndrome. GIF courtesy: Giphy

“Having cuts or burns on the skin due to a surgery or otherwise and even viral infection is also associated with TSS,” she warns.

What are the symptoms of TSS?
According to Pawar, one may exhibit the following symptoms if one is suffering from TSS:


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-Low blood pressure

-Redness in the eyes

-High fever and chills


-Muscle pain


“In case, you observe these symptoms, immediately consult with the doctor, who will then decide a proper line of treatment for you,” she suggests.

Why is it so dangerous?
Well, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), U.S., TSS can be deadly and lead to the following health consequences:

-Hypotension including a systolic blood pressure of less than or equal to 90 mm Hg for adults or less than the fifth percentile by age for children aged less than 16 years.

-Multi-organ failure characterized by renal impairment (If the creatinine compound content is greater than or equal to 2 mg/dL for adults) and coagulopathy  (If the platelets are less than or equal to 100,000/mm).

-Acute respiratory distress syndrome: Defined by acute onset of shortness of breath due to which a patient usually cannot breathe without the help of a ventilator.

-Flat, discoloured rashes on the surface of the skin that may come off in the form of flakes.

-Breaking down of the mucous membrane that lines various parts of the body. 

What is the treatment process for TSS?
Pawar mentions that the line of treatment for TSS usually includes prescription of antibiotics in order to get rid of the infection. 

toxic shock syndrome
If your tampon has given you toxic shock syndrome, you must seek medical attention immediately. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“The patient is closely monitored by the doctor and the treatment is decided depending on the underlying cause of TSS. If a woman is suffering from it due to a tampon, then this foreign object will be removed by the doctor. If the cause of the TSS is an open wound then, the doctor will clean it and get rid of the pus from the wound,” she says.

Medications to manage blood pressure and IV fluids may be suggested to tackle dehydration.

What are the precautions you can take to prevent getting TSS?
Now that you know how deadly TSS can be, you must take these precautions suggested by Pawar to keep it at bay:

-Change your tampon after every 4 hours or simply opt for a sanitary napkin when there is a light flow during menstruation.

-If you are using a menstrual cup then wash your hands and the cup properly while changing it.

-Try to keep the areas of cuts and surgical incisions very clean to keep infections at bay.

Yes, it is a dangerous condition and that is exactly why you need to ensure you’re practicing certain precautions to steer clear of it.


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