Toxic Shock Syndrome

1 What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome is a life-threatening complication caused by certain types of bacterial infections, such as staphylococcal and streptococcal infections. It has been primarily associated with the use of super-absorbent tampons. However, after removing such tampons from the market, the incidence of toxic shock syndrome in menstruating women has decreased significantly.

It can also affect men, children, and postmenopausal women. Risk factors include skin wounds and surgery.

However, toxic shock syndrome is most commonly associated as a disease that affects menstruating women using tampons during their cycles. However, there are also high chances of acquiring this disease through the use of menstrual sponges, diaphragms, and cervical caps. Women who have just delivered babies are also at a high risk of toxic shock. Anyone who is exposed to the staph bacterial infection can be affected by toxic shock syndrome.

Toxic shock syndrome is largely seen in women under nineteen years of age. Those who acquire the disease once stand a high risk of repeated infection. If one has suffered from toxic shock syndrome in the past, they must keep a watch for the recurrence of the disease’s symptoms.

Toxic shock syndrome can be a fatal disease, as the body’s response to the staph bacteria ends up creating a poison that enters the bloodstream, resulting in death. Those who die of this condition suffer from a sudden shock known as hypotensive shock, which causes the lungs and heart to cease functioning.

2 Symptoms

Toxic shock syndrome has the following signs and symptoms:

  • Sudden high fever
  • Low blood pressure
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Rash resembling a sunburn
  • Confusion
  • Muscle aches
  • Redness in the eyes, mouth, and throat
  • Seizures
  • Headache
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3 Causes

Toxic shock syndrome is a medical condition triggered by a poisonous substance that is a result of the Staphylococcus aureus bacterial infection. This is one of the most dangerous forms of the staph bacteria, which has several other forms, some of which may not be as risky as this one. The staph bacteria is known to result in major skin infections, especially in people with burn injuries or those who are recuperating in the hospital after surgery.

The staph bacteria normally live in the vagina and are harmless when kept under control by the good bacteria. It is still under research on how the staph bacteria suddenly goes against the body, resulting in toxic shock syndrome. However, two prime factors may be attributed to this condition, namely, a susceptible environment that allows the bacteria to grow and flourish, thereby releasing several poisons. This poison gets into the bloodstream, resulting in toxic shock. When tampons are filled with menstrual blood and remain unchanged for too long, it provides a favorable environment for the staph bacteria to multiply rapidly. Also, the material used to make the tampon could support the growth of the bacteria, which is normally not the case with cotton pads or tampons. Those who use menstrual pads, diaphragms, or cervical caps and do not change them regularly, i.e., more than thirty hours or when certain traces of the soiled sponge stay in the vagina, it could lead to the growth of the staph bacteria.

How the bacteria and its poisonous substance enters the bloodstream is largely determined by the way the tampon has been used. When the tampon is inserted into the vagina, certain small tears in the vaginal walls may occur. These tears are rather small, but in the process, may rupture minute blood vessels present in the vaginal area. Sometimes, when the tampon remains inserted in the vagina for too long, even with a light flow, it is likely to dry out the vagina more than normal, causing such tears to happen more frequently.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of toxic shock syndrome includes taking blood and urine samples to test for the presence of staph or strep infection. A swab from the cervix of the vagina or throat may be taken for laboratory analysis.

Because toxic shock syndrome can affect multiple organs, the doctor may recommend other tests like a CT scan, lumbar puncture, or chest X-ray to assess the extent of the illness.

5 Treatment

Toxic shock syndrome is a serious medical condition often treated as a medical emergency requiring immediate attention. Treatment for this disease may require the patient to stay in the hospital’s intensive care unit for close monitoring and to see how the patient reacts to the treatment.Treatment for toxic shock syndrome is carried out with antibiotics while doctors seek the source of infection. Medications to stabilize blood pressure and symptomatic therapy should be given to cure other symptoms. The doctor is most likely to prescribe an intravenous (IV) antibiotic, which directly enters the veins of the body, thus more effectively fighting the bacterial infection. For this, an IV line is inserted into the body’s veins. This form of treatment will need to be administered until the patient’s condition is stable. Beyond this, a patient may also be recommended antibiotic treatment for six to eight weeks. If required, a doctor may continue to administer to the patient even at home.

There are other forms of treatment that may be required to treat toxic shock syndrome, but these methods largely depend upon the main cause of the illness. For instance, if a vaginal tampon may have caused the condition, the doctor may try different ways to get the tampon out of the body. Similarly, if a surgery or open wound is the cause of the syndrome, the doctor may drain out the pus and blood from the wound to help it heal faster and clear the infections.

There could be other treatments that may be required to supplement the main course of treatment and to stabilize other factors of the body. Some of these treatment methods include:

  • Blood pressure-stabilizing medicines
  • Administering fluids through IV to prevent dehydration
  • Gamma globulin injections, which help strengthen the immune function of the body so that it can fight the infection better

Dialysis is done in the case of kidney failure due to toxins produced by staph and strep. Surgery may be necessary to remove necrotic tissue and drain fluid from the zone of infection to provide better healing.

What is Toxic Shock Syndrome?

6 Prevention

Certain guidelines were issued to the manufacturers of tampons to prevent toxic shock syndrome in menstruating women.

Reading the tampon labels, changing the tampons frequently (at least for every four to eight hours), and alternative use of tampons and sanitary napkins is important to avoid the syndrome.

Toxic shock syndrome can reoccur. Avoid usage of tampons if you’ve previously had toxic shock syndrome.

Apart from the above, the following precautions may be necessarily to prevent the growth of the staph bacteria:

  • Keep changing tampons frequently
  • It is better to wear low-absorbing sanitary pads or napkins, which can be changed frequently rather than allowing the blood to accumulate.
  • Use of menstrual cups is considered hygienic, but make sure you wash the cup and your hands thoroughly when changing it.
  • Sanitary napkins are considered a more hygienic practice for menstrual protection.
  • Keep washing your hands, especially when you use the washroom, to prevent any bacteria traces from remaining on the hands.
  • Pay special attention to wounds and cuts, and keep them and their dressings clean by changing them frequently.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

No home remedies are recommended for toxic shock syndrome.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Toxic shock syndrome is a serious complication that can even lead to death. Immediate medical care is required for better coping and lifestyle. Treatment is the key to prevent any causalities, so if one observes any symptoms of the condition in a person, immediately call an ambulance and rush the person to the hospital. Prompt treatments can help the condition from worsening and resulting in organ failure. 

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with toxic shock syndrome.

It mostly affects menstruating women; rarely, older women, men, and children can also be affected.

Usually, it is associated with:

  • Cuts or burns on the skin
  • Recent surgery
  • Contraceptive sponges
  • Super-absorbent tampons
  • Viral infections, such as chicken pox

Complications include:

  • Shock
  • Renal failure
  • Death

Toxic shock syndrome can also impact the functioning of some of the major body organs, which could have its own symptoms. When left untreated, complications could include the following:

  • Liver failure
  • Renal failure
  • Cardiac failure
  • Impaired blood flow throughout the body
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