Toxic shock syndrome is one of those scary things you hear about but many people don’t know what it is or how to protect themselves from it. Although it is a rare thing, it can potentially be a life-threatening condition so it’s not something to take lightly. To learn more about toxic shock, what symptoms to look out for, and what to do to prevent it, we asked Dr. Tristan Emily Bickman, board-certified OB/GYN, and author of Whoa, Baby!, to give us the rundown.
What is toxic shock syndrome?
“Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening complication of some bacterial infections,” Bickman says. Staphylococcus aureus (also known as “staph”) is the most common bacteria responsible for toxic shock.
Staph stimulates the release of large amounts of toxins called interleukins and tumor necrosis factor, Bickman says. In other words, the toxin is not created by the bacteria growing in the blood. It is produced where the infection is and then enters the bloodstream.
Although toxic shock syndrome is most commonly associated with leaving tampons in too long, other things can cause it. Open wounds, recent surgery, and recent birth can also trigger it, Bickman says. People with prosthetic devices are also at an increased risk of getting it.
What are the symptoms?
Low blood pressure is one of the most common signs of toxic shock syndrome, Bickman says. It can also come along with many flu-like symptoms including high fever, diarrhea, muscle aches, and vomiting. Rashes, peeling skin, and seizures are also known symptoms.
How can you prevent it?
Although wearing natural, organic tampons protects you from all the harmful chemicals of traditional period products, they don’t decrease the risk of toxic shock. The length of time you leave a tampon in and its level of absorbency are what play a role in causing it. So even though organic tampons are the safer option, you still need to ensure you’re maintaining proper menstrual hygiene to prevent toxic shock syndrome.
To be safe, simply change out your tampon frequently. The general rule of thumb is every four to eight hours. Dr. Bickman highly advises not leaving in your tampon longer than eight hours.
If you’re planning to sleep in a little more on the weekend, it’s best to skip the tampons and use Organic Overnight Pads instead. They’re extra long to keep you covered and have double wings so they stay locked in place while you’re snoozing. You can even throw on some Period Panties for added peace of mind.
Dr. Bickman also recommends not using tampons with more absorbency than you need. “Superabsorbent tampons are more likely to cause toxic shock,” she says. “They become very saturated with blood which is an ideal environment for rapid bacterial growth.” If you need Super Tampons on heavy days, just be sure to change them out more often. Otherwise, a Regular Tampon will do the trick.