Toxic Shock Syndrome
Tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare but potentially fatal illness that can affect women and girls of menstruating age. It occurs when the common bacteria staphylococcus aureus, produces a toxin which is absorbed into the bloodstream. This toxin overwhelms the immune system, and attacks the major organs, which can lead to kidney failure, lung collapse, and in severe cases, cardiac arrest.
Half of all known cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome are related to tampon use.
If you use tampons, please be aware of the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome. Not all of these may occur at once, so if you feel unwell, remove your tampon and call NHS direct or your doctor for advice. It's also worth telling whoever lives with you, or a good friend if you live alone, of your concerns, and ask them to keep an eye on you until you feel better, because things can change rapidly.
Symptoms of tampon related TSS can include:
- Always begins AFTER the start of your period.
- May have a headache, and/or sore throat.
- Aching muscles and high temperature.
- Vomiting and watery diahorrea may follow.
- Confusion and dizziness.
- May have a red, sunburn like rash on the chest, abdomen or thighs.
- Very low blood pressure.
What you should do if you think you may have early signs of TSS:
- Remove the tampon immediately (save it if possible).
- Seek IMMEDIATE medical attention - if possible go to hospital.
- Inform the doctor that you have been using tampons and believe you may have toxic shock syndrome.
- Take a TSS information leaflet with you.
Better to be cautious with this one, it can progress very quickly and you may go from feeling like you are coming down with the flu one day to being in a life threatening situation the next. For more information on tampon-related Toxic Shock Syndrome, please visit the Tampon Alert website at http://www.tamponalert.org.uk.
Reducing your risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome:
- Do not use tampons.
- If you do use tampons, use organic tampons (eg. Natracare), or tampons that do not contain any rayon. Always use the lowest absorbency for your flow, and change regularly. Use a sanitary towel at night.
- Consider changing to reusable menstrual products, such as reusable sanitary towels or a menstrual cup.
- Reusable menstrual cups are not widely associated with toxic shock syndrome, but you should still be aware of the symptoms*
- As far as we are aware, there are no known cases of toxic shock syndrome related to the use of menstrual sponges, however we recommend using these in the daytime only*
- ALICE KILVERT TAMPON ALERT says “most main-brand and chain store brand tampons still contain high absorbency man-made fibres so if women want to eliminate the risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome they should use a safe alternative such as towels/pads, all-cotton tampons or reusable sponges or cups."
- If using a menstrual cup, remove and wash it every 4-8 hours.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert, this information is provided as a guide only. If you have any medical concerns at all you should consult your doctor.
With thanks to Alice Kilvert Tampon Alert for their informative website and leaflets.
*We are aware of at least one case of TSS linked to a menstrual cup user, so we cannot say that any internal menstrual product is completely risk free.