Toxic Shock Syndrome Isn’t Just Caused By Tampons — Here are 5 Little-Known Signs and Symptoms to Watch For

When you hear the term “toxic shock syndrome,” chances are the first thing you think of is a woman leaving her tampon in too long. And the second thing you might think is that woman losing her limbs or dying from this monstrous disease. Are we close?

While it’s true that leaving a tampon in too long can cause this condition, that’s not the only way people get toxic shock syndrome.

And while toxic shock syndrome should be taken extremely seriously, it doesn’t always cause these crazy rare symptoms that we associate so much with it (though, we repeat, it should always be taken seriously, that’s for sure).

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic Shock Syndrome, commonly referred to as TSS, is a serious medical condition caused by bacterial infection. Key phrase: Bacterial infection—which can be caused from other things than just tampons.

The bacteria that TSS is caused by are certain types of Staphylococcus bacteria, particularly Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. These bacteria may actually already be present on your skin or inside your nose and throat. However, if the bacteria end up in a location that makes them grow quicker than usual, they may produce toxins, which, if they get into your bloodstream, can cause pretty brutal symptoms, like damage to organs and tissues.

So why does everyone always associated TSS with tampons? We don’t really know—but we do know that fewer than half of TSS cases involve tampons, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Other people who can get it: children, men, and post-menopausal women—and people of all ages.

Who knew? 

If you or someone you know is concerned about having TSS, here are a few signs to look out for:

  1. Fever.

    If your temperature is above 98.6, you technically have a fever. TSS is usually associated with a sudden fever, and sometimes even sweating, chills, and shivering to accompany it.

  2. Rash.

    Some people with TSS develop a very particular rash on their body that almost resembles sunburn. It’s red, flat (i.e., not raised), and might turn white if you press down on it.

  3. Muscle aches.

    You can usually tell if muscle aches are from working out, of if they’re from something else. Bacterial infections like TSS can cause aching in a small area or throughout your whole body.

  4. Confusion.

    One of the most disconcerting symptoms of TSS is the inability to stay focused on a topic or if you find yourself switch between topics a lot.

  5. Nausea and vomiting.

    You don’t need an explanation for this one. It’s gross and not fun. Rarely is nausea a serious issue but if you’re experiencing any mix of these symptoms in addition to feeling queasy, you should see a doctor.

There are many other signs and symptoms of TSS—from pains that you might think are normal, like headaches, to ones less common, such as redness of the eyes, mouth, and throat. To learn more about these signs and symptoms to look out for, check out the informative video below:

TSS is a medical emergency, so if you even think you may have it, contact your health care provider immediately.

Tell us: Did you know tampons weren’t the only way people could get TSS? Did you know men and children could get it too?