Toxic Shock Syndrome Symptoms

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) Symptoms, Causes, Risk And Treatment

The rise in cases of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) associated with the use of tampons by women in the menstrual stage has led to greater understanding of this potentially fatal illness. TSS symptoms are generally caused by one of two bacteria and we will be describing what to look or in detail. Also, we intend to explain what TSS is, how it is contracted and what the correct course of treatment should be. Although it is treatable it is important to catch toxic shock fever early, as the patient can easily become comatose if it is left too long.

What Are TSS Symptoms?

To begin with, let’s look at the important subject of identifying TSS symptoms. The first signs of infection are a high fever, and it can occur quite suddenly. Body temperature will rise to a feverish level, probably greater than 38.9C (102.01F) and will be accompanied by high blood pressure. A rash resembling sunburnt skin may appear and will mainly manifest on the palms of the hand and soles of the feet. If left to develop the illness can affect the central nervous system and lead to stupor, and many organs may be affected. Vomiting and sickness, kidney and liver failure, and many other problems are associated with TSS infection. Any such symptoms should be taken seriously, and a visit to a doctor arranged immediately.

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

As we have described the symptoms above, a little about what toxic shock syndrome is: it is a condition caused by bacteria, and it may manifest in perfectly healthy people or those who have prior skin conditions. It spreads rapidly, and it is very dangerous. Each type of TSS is likely to require hospital treatment as it is not to be taken lightly. It is not a common ailment and may be associated with wearing tampons. Anyone who is wearing one at the time they notice the symptoms described should remove it immediately.


In scientific terms the causes of toxic shock syndrome are two specific bacteria: Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. The former is the most likely cause of TSS and is the one responsible for the nasty rash. It is the one that causes the infection in otherwise healthy people, while the latter bacterium is associated more with those already suffering from skin ailments. There has been a rise in cases associated with tampons, which is why women are strongly advised to change regularly and to take great care in order to minimise the risk of contracting TSS.

What Are The Risk Factors?

Let us make it clear that cases of TSS are not commonplace. The rise in numbers associated with tampon use is in proportion to a fall in actual cases; in other words, while we have come to realise that TSS can be associated with tampons, it is being more carefully controlled. A recent study claimed that it would affect no more than four out of every 100,000 tampon users; manufacturer claims are more lenient, with a maximum of 17/100,000. Nevertheless, these are very low percentages as you can see. The most risk comes from infected tampons, and again we must stress the need to change regularly. On the downside, TSS is very dangerous and can come about very quickly. Coma follows quite soon after infection thanks to the effect on the nervous system, and it is important to understand that TSS can kill.

How Is Toxic Shock Syndrome Diagnosed?

Again, it is important that we do not understate how important it is to make sure TSS Symptoms are taken seriously. Anyone reporting such symptoms should see a doctor straight away, and if overly concerned, call an ambulance. Many cases of TSS are not reported early enough, or are mistaken for something else. Remember the main symptoms, repeated below:

  • High fever and a temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Rash on the palms, soles and elsewhere
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Organ failure

All of the above can accompany the onset of TSS, and you should be aware of them at all times.


Treatment for TSS should take place in a hospital, and will generally involve a period in intensive care. The infected areas will be drained and the patient may need serious fluid management and 24 hour care. In cases of organ failure the disease may lead to the need for organ replacement, a serious issue in any situation. Following the cleaning and removal of the source of the infection that patient will be subjected to a course of antibiotics. Once again, this is a serious illness that can have fatal consequences, so the right level of care is vital.

We hope that this article has helped you to understand more about the symptoms, causes and effects of toxic shock syndrome, a rare and yet very dangerous disease that needs to be taken seriously. Although – statistically – it is unlikely you will contract the disease, it pays to know the signs to look out for, and how to attend to the problem.

Written By Melissa Robertson

Dr. Melissa Robertson, MD, is board certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology and she currently practices gynecology in West Palm Beach, Florida. As a physician with the OB/GYN Specialists of the Palm Beaches, Dr. Robertson’s goal is to improve the overall health and welfare of women from adolescent through childbirth.


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