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What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome and How Do You Treat It?

Toxic shock syndrome is a rare medical condition. It is a serious condition that is caused by a bacterial infection. It is triggered when the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus gets into the bloodstream and produces toxins.

Toxic shock syndrome has been linked to super-absorbent tampon use in menstruating women, but it can affect men, children, and people of all ages.

Toxic shock syndrome is a toxin-mediated acute illness. It can be life-threatening and usually precipitated by infection with either Staphylococcus aureus or group A Streptococcus (Streptococcus Pyogenes).

Toxic shock syndrome is characterized by:

  • high fever,
  • rash,
  • hypotension,
  • multi-organ failure (involving at least 3 or more organ systems), and
  • Desquamation, typically of the palms and soles, 1-2 weeks after the onset of acute illness.
  • The clinical syndrome can also include severe myalgia,
  • vomiting,
  • diarrhea,
  • a headache, and
  • Non-focal neurologic abnormalities.

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone, including men, children, and postmenopausal women, and risk factors include skin wounds and surgery.


Potential signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include:

  • A high fever
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • A rash resembling a sunburn, mainly on the palms and soles
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness of your eyes, mouth, and throat


Normally, Staphylococcus Aureus (staph) bacteria cause toxic shock syndrome. The condition can also be caused by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

Risk Factors

Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone. About half the cases of toxic shock syndrome occur in women of menstruating age, while the rest occur in older women, men, and children.

Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome occurs in people of all ages, and toxic shock syndrome has been associated with:

  • Having bruise, cuts or burns on your skin
  • Having had recent surgery or surgeries
  • Using contraceptive sponges, diaphragms or super-absorbent tampons
  • Having a viral infection, such as the flu

Your risk may also be increased if you have:

  • diabetes
  • abused alcohol
  • chickenpox

Complications Of Toxic Shock Syndrome

Complications may include:

  • Liver failure
  • kidney failure
  • Renal failure
  • Death
  • heart failure
  • shock, and
  • reduced blood flow through the body

Signs Of Liver Failure Due To Toxic Shock Syndrome May Include:

  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • sleepiness
  • jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyeballs)
  • upper abdominal pain
  • difficulty concentrating
  • nausea

Signs Of Kidney Failure Due To Toxic Shock Syndrome May Include:

  • hiccups
  • persistent itching
  • chest pain
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • muscle cramps
  • shortness of breath
  • high blood pressure
  • swelling in the feet and ankles
  • problems urinating
  • sleep problems

Signs Of Heart Failure Due To Toxic Shock Syndrome May Include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • heart palpitations
  • chest pain
  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • lack of appetite
  • inability to concentrate
  • shortness of breath

When To See A Doctor

It is common to attribute symptoms of toxic shock syndrome to another medical condition, such as the flu, but if you experience the above symptoms after using tampons or after a surgery or skin injury, contact your physician immediately.

Treatment For Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome is a medical emergency, and some people with the condition have to stay in the intensive care unit for several days so that medical personnel can closely monitor them.

A specialist or your doctor will most likely prescribe an intravenous (IV) antibiotic to help you fight off the bacterial infection in your body. This will require the placement of a special intravenous line called a peripherally inserted intravenous catheter, or PICC line.

Alternatively, you will receive 6–8 weeks of antibiotics at home, and an infectious disease doctor will closely monitor you.

Other treatment methods for toxic shock syndrome vary depending on the major cause. If a vaginal sponge or tampon triggered toxic shock, your doctor may need to remove this foreign object from your body, but if an open wound or surgical wound caused your toxic shock syndrome, the doctor will drain pus or blood from the wound to help clear up any infection.

Other possible treatments include:

  • medication to stabilize blood pressure
  • Intravenous fluids to fight dehydration
  • Gamma globulin injections to subdue inflammation and boost your body’s immunity.


If you use tampons, read the labels and use the lowest absorbency tampon you can find. Also, change tampons frequently, at least every five to eight hours.  Use mini pads when your flow is light.

Manufacturers of tampons no longer use the materials or designs that were associated with toxic shock syndrome, and manufacturers are required to use standard measurement and labeling for absorbency and to print guidelines on the boxes.

Toxic shock syndrome can recur, and people who’ve had it once can get it again. Thus, if you’ve had toxic shock syndrome or a prior serious staph or strep infection, don’t use tampons, and avoid the risk factors like alcohol, burns etc…



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