Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, potentially fatal complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Learn about symptoms, risk factors and treatment.
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.
Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone, including men, children and postmenopausal women. Risk factors for toxic shock syndrome include skin wounds, surgery, and the use of tampons and other devices, such as menstrual cups, contraceptive sponges or diaphragms.
Possible signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include:
Call your doctor immediately if you have signs or symptoms of toxic shock syndrome. This is especially important if you've recently used tampons or if you have a skin or wound infection.
Most commonly, Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria cause toxic shock syndrome. The syndrome can also be caused by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.
Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone. About half the cases of toxic shock syndrome associated with staphylococci bacteria occur in women of menstruating age; the rest occur in older women, men and children. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome occurs in people of all ages.
Toxic shock syndrome has been associated with:
Toxic shock syndrome can progress rapidly. Complications may include:
Manufacturers of tampons sold in the United States no longer use the materials or designs that were associated with toxic shock syndrome. Also, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires manufacturers to use standard measurement and labeling for absorbency and to print guidelines on the boxes.
If you use tampons, read the labels and use the lowest absorbency tampon you can. Change tampons frequently, at least every four to eight hours. Alternate using tampons and sanitary napkins, and use minipads when your flow is light.
Toxic shock syndrome can recur. People who've had it once can get it again. If you've had toxic shock syndrome or a prior serious staph or strep infection, don't use tampons.
There's no one test for toxic shock syndrome. You may need to provide blood and urine samples to test for the presence of a staph or strep infection. Your vagina, cervix and throat may be swabbed for samples to be analyzed in a lab.
Because toxic shock syndrome can affect multiple organs, your doctor may order other tests, such as a CT scan, lumbar puncture or chest X-ray, to assess the extent of your illness.
If you develop toxic shock syndrome, you'll likely be hospitalized. In the hospital, you'll:
The toxins produced by the staph or strep bacteria and accompanying hypotension may result in kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you may need dialysis.
Surgery may be necessary to remove nonliving tissue from the site of infection or to drain the infection.
Toxic shock syndrome usually is diagnosed in an emergency setting. However, if you're concerned about your risk of toxic shock syndrome, see your doctor to check your risk factors and talk about prevention. Here's some information to help you prepare for your appointment.
Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. For toxic shock syndrome, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions, as well.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including: