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Women's Health

5 Things You Didn't Know About Your Period

Even well-informed women have questions about their menstrual cycle. Here are answers to the most common questions encountered by gynecologists.
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4. If I get my period, can I be sure I am not pregnant?

You can't be 100% sure, says Dolan. "It could be bleeding in early pregnancy," she says. "You can't always tell the difference."  Pay attention to whether it progresses as a regular period.

She advises women: If you have other symptoms such as nausea, check with your doctor. A pregnancy test might be wise.

5. If I leave in a tampon too long, am I at risk for toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, a life-threatening illness caused from a bacterial infection, made headlines in 1980 when an outbreak occurred that mostly involved young women who had been using a specific brand of very absorbent tampons (the brand is now off the market.) The bacteria produce toxins that cause toxic shock syndrome.

TSS is marked by a sudden onset of fever, chills, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle aches, and rash. Some experts say that very absorbent tampons, when left in place for a long time, become a breeding ground for bacteria and cause the syndrome. Others say how long you leave in a tampon doesn't increase your risk of getting sick. 

Ideally, how long should you leave in a tampon? "Follow what the package insert says,'' suggests Deidre Defoe, MD, clinical director of Rachel's Well, a nonprofit women's health care organization based in Virginia.

On the web site of one popular tampon brand, for instance, it recommends changing the tampon at least every four to eight hours.

Know that the condition is rare. In the U.S., about one or two of every 100,000 women ages 15 to 44 get toxic shock syndrome annually, according to the CDC.

Many experts say they have never seen a case since they have been in practice. "Toxic shock is something everyone learns about in medical school," Defoe says. But Defoe says she has yet to see a case.

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Reviewed on February 23, 2009

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