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What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Everything you need to know about the causes, symptoms, and how to prevent it.
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When I first got my period, the only menstrual product I ever used (and knew about) were sanitary napkins or pads. For the longest time, I turned to pads because they were accessible, affordable, and easy to use. When I got to college, I discovered that there are other options pala, like period pantiestampons and menstrual cups. I was mostly curious about the last two, so I decided to give them a try.

NGL, I was excited to make the switch. But at the same time, I can clearly remember being nervous as hell. Since I wanted to know what I was getting myself into, I'd regularly make it a point to read the instructions that came with the box. One thing I noticed is that the tiny pamphlets would always have a warning that tampons and menstrual cups have been associated with the term "Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)." On the labels, it's briefly described as a rare but serious disease that's caused by bacteria. In an email interview, Cosmopolitan asked Dr. Mae Syki-Young and Dr. Katrina Marie Soto-Laureano to talk more about TSS, its symptoms, and what to do if you experience it.

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What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

According to Dr. Syki-Young, "Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, sudden life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Often [it] results from toxins produced by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria or streptococcus." This kind of bacteria is "normally present in the vaginal canal, but small injuries, tears, scrapes, or overgrowth of the bacteria in the vaginal canal can release toxins into the bloodstream thereby causing TSS," she added.

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Who can get Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Dr. Soto-Laureano said, "More than half of the cases of TSS are seen in menstruating women who use tampons." But heads up, it's also possible to get TSS from using menstrual cups, menstrual diaphragms, and menstrual sponges. In fact, the doctors shared that even men, children, post menopausal women, and women who recently gave birth can also suffer from TSS.

Toxic Shock Syndrome and using menstrual products 

Menstrual products (like tampons and menstrual cups) that are soaked with blood are a good medium for overgrowth of bacteria. "Although rare, anything that can break the skin can cause toxic shock syndrome. So when using menstrual cups, small injuries or irritation can happen in the vaginal lining during insertion," explained Dr. Syki-Young. It helps to make sure that you have the correct cup size so that you can comfortably insert it and avoid injuries. She advised us that "washing your hands thoroughly, using a correct cup size, cleaning [the] menstrual cup properly, and [using] water based lubricant can help prevent TSS."

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The longer the product is left inside you, the higher your chances of getting the disease. Dr. Soto-Laureano also said that "Even if Staphylococcus is a normal bacteria that is found in the vagina, the presence of a menstrual cup for an extended period may cause the overgrowth of the said bacteria, which may eventually lead to production of toxins that causes TSS."

Facts about getting Toxic Shock Syndrome from using menstrual products
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Possible signs and symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome include:

  • Sudden high grade fever
  • Hypotension - low blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Muscle tenderness, muscle aches, or muscle soreness
  • Headaches
  • Redness of eyes, mouth and throat
  • Rash especially on palms and soles
  • Seizures

What should you do if you have Toxic Shock Syndrome?

If you experience any of the signs and symptoms mentioned above, you should call your doctor immediately. According to Dr. Soto-Laureano, "Seek emergency consult because this is a potentially life-threatening condition." Dr. Syki-Young also reminded us that TSS "can progress rapidly and have multiple complications like renal failure, shock, and [in worst cases], death."

Dr. Katrina Marie Soto-Laureano, MD is currently a Medical Officer III at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Ospital ng Sampaloc.

Dr. Mae Syki-Young is a consultant of Makati Medical Center and St. Luke's Medical Center, Bonifacio Global Center; Fellow of Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecology Society (POGS); Member of Philippine Society of Gynecologic Endoscopy (PSGE); Member of Aesthetic Gynecology Society of the Philippines (AGSPI). You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook

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