Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, life-threatening complication of certain types of bacterial infections. Often toxic shock syndrome results from toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, but the condition may also be caused by toxins produced by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. Toxic shock syndrome has been associated primarily with the use of superabsorbent tampons. However, since manufacturers pulled certain types of tampons off the market, the incidence of toxic shock syndrome in menstruating women has declined. Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone, including men, children and postmenopausal women. Risk factors for toxic shock syndrome include skin wounds and surgery.
Possible signs and symptoms of toxic shock syndrome include:
- A sudden high fever
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- A rash resembling a sunburn, particularly on your palms and soles
- Muscle aches
- Redness of your eyes, mouth and throat
Most commonly, Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria cause toxic shock syndrome. The syndrome can also be caused by group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria.
Toxic shock syndrome can affect anyone. About half the cases of toxic shock syndrome associated with Staphylococci bacteria occur in women of menstruating age; the rest occur in older women, men and children. Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome occurs in people of all ages. Toxic shock syndrome has been associated with:
- Having cuts or burns on your skin
- Having had recent surgery
- Using contraceptive sponges, diaphragms or superabsorbent tampons
- Having a viral infection, such as the flu or chickenpox
There's no one test for toxic shock syndrome. You may need to provide blood and urine samples to test for the presence of a staph or strep infection. Your vagina, cervix and throat may be swabbed for samples for laboratory analysis. Because toxic shock syndrome can affect multiple organs, your doctor may order other tests, such as a CT scan, lumbar puncture or chest X-ray, to assess the extent of your illness.
If you develop toxic shock syndrome, you'll likely be hospitalized. In the hospital, you'll:
- Be treated with antibiotics while doctors seek the infection source
- Receive medication to stabilize your blood pressure if it's low (hypotension) and fluids to treat dehydration
- Receive supportive care to treat other signs and symptoms
- The toxins produced by the staph or strep bacteria and accompanying hypotension may result in kidney failure. If your kidneys fail, you may need dialysis.
- What you can do to prepare for an appointment
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make the appointment, find out if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet.
- Write down your symptoms, even those that seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including major stresses or recent life changes.
- If you menstruate, write down the date your last period started.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
- Bring a family member or friend along, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Toxic shock syndrome can recur. People who've had it once can get it again. If you've had toxic shock syndrome or a prior serious staph or strep infection, don't use tampons.