Infectious Disease

Toxic shock syndrome

Young woman sitting at a tabl and smiling

Understanding Toxic Shock Syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome is classified as a life-threatening complication associated with certain types of bacteria. Many cases resulted from the use of certain types of superabsorbent tampons. However, with that noted, toxic shock syndrome can affect women, men, and children of both sexes. Other risk factors include recent surgery or wounds to the skin.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Causes

Toxic shock syndrome commonly is the result of a staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacterial infection. In the alternative, toxic shock syndrome may result from toxins produced by streptococcus (strep) bacteria.

Symptoms of Toxic Shock Syndrome

A number of symptoms are associated with toxic shock syndrome, including sudden high fever and low blood pressure or hypotension. Other symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, a rash that looks like a typical sunburn and confusion. A person with toxic shock syndrome may also suffer from confusion, muscle aches, and redness of the mouth, throat, and eyes. Other symptoms include headaches and seizures.

If a woman has used tampons, a person with a skin wound or who recently had surgery, experiences any of these symptoms, he or she should seek immediate medical attention. Early intervention provides the best chance of containing toxic shock syndrome.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Risk Factors

In addition to the use of tampons, surgery or skin wounds, there are other risk factors associated with toxic shock syndrome. These include the use of contraceptive sponges or diaphragms. Other risk factors are a viral infection, like chickenpox or the flu.

The Trio of Complications Associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome

There are three primary, and life-threatening, complications associated with toxic shock syndrome. The first one is shock. Systemic shock in the human body occurs when a person's organs do not receive a proper level of blood. This results in a buildup of toxic waste in a person's body.

If the shock persists, organ damage and even failure occur. When it comes to toxic shock syndrome, renal failure is the second in the trio of complications associated with the condition.

Ultimately, the last stage of toxic shock syndrome is death. Death occurs as the result of renal failure and other damage caused by the body because of persistent shock.

Tests Associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome

There is no specific medical test utilized to determine if a person suffers from toxic shock syndrome. Rather, a doctor initially considers a patient's medical history and investigates if the patient has history of any related risk factors. Then a doctor will test for the presence of a staph or strep infection, either of which could cause the syndrome.

If a staph or strep infection is detected, a doctor likely will order additional testing. A doctor may order CT scan, chest X-ray, or lumbar puncture. These tests are undertaken because of the propensity of toxic shock syndrome to damage multiple organs in a person's body.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Treatment

A person is likely to be hospitalized immediately if a determination is made that he or she suffers from toxic shock syndrome. Antibiotics are immediately prescribed to address the underlying infection.

If a patient suffers from low blood pressure because of the syndrome, medication will be prescribed to address that issue. In addition, a fluid infusion regimen is likely to be ordered to address dehydration, which is common in a case of this syndrome.

If kidney function is impaired, a doctor may order dialysis. In addition, surgery may be recommended if there is dead tissue at the infection site or if the infection site needs to be drained. The procedure to remove dead tissue is called debridement.

Preventing Toxic Shock Syndrome

Because toxic shock syndrome is frequently associated with tampon use, not using tampons is a primary step to take to prevent the condition. If a woman uses tampons, they should be changed frequently. In addition, doctors recommend using the least absorbent type of tampon available as a means of lessening the risk of contracting toxic shock syndrome.

Toxic Shock Syndrome Statistics

The incidence of toxic shock syndrome has decreased since the condition was first identified in 1979 and 1980. The decrease in cases of the syndrome is largely attributed to the fact that superabsorbent tampons are no longer used.

Nonetheless, an average of 119 cases of toxic shock syndrome is diagnosed annually in the United States. That equates to about 1 case for every 2,407,079 people in the country. The vast majority of cases of toxic shock syndrome in the United States involve women between the ages of 15 and 44.