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You’ve probably heard about a condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

It can be fatal, so it’s really worth knowing all the facts. TSS is a rare but life-threatening bacterial infection that can seriously damage your skin and organs if left untreated. While anyone can get TSS – men and children can contract it too – around 50 per cent of cases occur in women when they’re on their period.

Toxic shock syndrome is often associated with using tampons, especially ‘super-absorbent’ ones [1]. But it can also affect women using a contraceptive diaphragm or women who have had a baby.

The good news is that if toxic shock syndrome is diagnosed and treated early with antibiotics, there’s a good chance of recovery. (Although the condition can reoccur once you’ve had it.)

Knowing how to recognise the symptoms of toxic shock syndrome is pretty important to staying safe and well – especially as there’s no single test for the condition. Signs include a high fever (more than 38.9°C), headaches, light-headedness or dizziness and a sunburn-like rash on the entire body. Other things to look out for are vomiting and/or diarrhea, aching muscles or weakness, bright red colouring of the eyes, throat and vagina, and confusion or disorientation [2].

If you’re on your period and you come down with one or more of these symptoms while using a tampon, remove it at once and consult a doctor. And don’t forget, you can get the condition even if you’re not using tampons, so always act swiftly if you start to feel unwell.

There are various theories about why tampon use is connected to TSS; if left in too long a tampon can become a breeding ground for bacteria, while using super-absorbent tampons may scratch the vagina, causing bacteria to enter the blood.

Whatever the cause, it’s really important to remember to remove your tampon at the end of your period, and to change tampons straight after swimming as they can absorb bacteria from the water. And use the smallest size tampons that are effective for you. Using ones that are too thick to comfortably insert inside your vagina may scratch you internally.

If you think you may have toxic shock syndrome, call your doctor at once, as it’s important to get treatment quickly. But otherwise don’t live in fear – just wise up and make sure you know what to look out for.

Did you know?

40
the number of cases of TSS reported in the UK each year [3]
13-25
you’re most likely to get TSS between these ages [4]
50%
of TSS cases involve menstruating women using tampons [5]

Medical disclaimer

The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your GP for guidance about a specific medical condition.

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