We have come a long way in our menstrual protection, understanding our bodies and working with our periods instead of against them. However one thing that we cannot work with or take lightly is Toxic Shock Syndrome. Not just found in women, men and children are also technically liable to develop the disease as it can happen in any area of the body, if bacteria enter the blood stream. Nevertheless, as menstruating women, we are more susceptible to it due to use of tampon & cup intra vaginal menstrual protection and contraceptive diaphragm or cap. As with so many things, knowledge and awareness are key to avoiding or quickly responding to early symptoms as this is one infection where time is of the essence!




Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare but sudden & potentially fatal condition if not treated quickly. It's caused by the release of toxins from an excess of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, which is found in many women's bodies. These bacteria are actually quite commonly found on the skin, in the nose, armpits, and vagina without causing any problems. However, under certain circumstances, and without antibodies or immunity, it can grow out of control and release a toxin, which is like a poison. If the toxin enters the blood stream it can rapidly cause a severe illness that affects the entire body (shock), and can be fatal.

Since TSS develops quickly, emergency medical help is needed as soon as possible.


what is TSS




Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by bacteria. Using tampons doesn’t automatically cause TSS. However they can create an environment where staphylococcus bacteria can overgrow and enter the blood stream causing TSS.

The underlying mechanisms are not yet fully understood. One theory is that the bacteria naturally present in the vagina can over-grow in the presence of a blood-soaked tampon.

For TSS to occur, these particular types of bacteria must first over-grow and make large amounts of the TSS toxin which then enters the bloodstream. Tampons can increase the risk of TSS by being left in the vagina for a long time, encouraging bacteria to grow and keep growing in one place.  A favourable environment for the multiplication of this bacterium will then produce dangerous toxins and will enter the bloodstream. If an overly absorbent tampon is used when blood flow is light it can cause tiny abrasions when inserted or removed, allowing toxins to enter the blood stream and result in TSS.

These toxins, once in the body, will attack different organs such as the liver, the kidneys or the lungs, and plunge the patient into a state of extreme weakness.This is referred to as menstrual toxic shock.




Fortunately, Toxic Shock Syndrome is rare. To put it in perspective, you are more likely to die from being struck by lightning than you are from Toxic Shock Syndrome

However, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of contracting the infection.

Take a break from intra vaginal protection, especially at night. Try using a reusable period pad or period panties with overnight protection, giving your body chance to heal any potential abrasions, flush out any build up of bacteria and reduce the chance of bacteria growth and over growth.

Never leave a tampon in for longer than the recommended time.

Always wash your hands before inserting and after removing a tampon.

Never have more than one tampon in your vagina at a time. If you feel the need for extra protection, period panties are the perfect solution.

Always ensure you have removed the last tampon at the end of your period.

If you’re using tampons, use the lowest level of absorbency you can. If it hurts or is uncomfortable to remove after a few hours, go down a level. It’s better to change more regularly, than use one that’s too absorbent for your flow.

When using female barrier contraception, follow the manufacturer's instructions about how long you can leave it in.

It's a good idea to avoid using tampons altogether or female barrier contraception if you've had TSS before. Reusable period panties are a safe and sustainable alternative for your period protection you can use month after month.



TSS can feel a lot like the flu, and symptoms can vary from person to person, but most commonly, the symptoms of TSS are:

High fever (over 102° F or 38.9° C)

Body or joint aches

Nausea and/or vomiting


Dizziness or fainting or confusion


TSS is treatable, but don’t ignore the symptoms. If you are menstruating and using tampons or a cup and you notice any symptoms or suddenly feel very ill, remove the protection right away and get medical attention immediately. Ignoring it will not make it go away!



TSS Sympyoms 


(C) PHOTOS: Cristina Gareau




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