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What is toxic shock syndrome?

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare illness that happens suddenly after an infection. It quickly can harm several different organs, including the lungs , the kidneys camera.gif, and the liver , and it can be deadly. Since toxic shock syndrome gets worse quickly, it requires medical treatment right away.

What causes toxic shock syndrome?

An infection caused by strep or staph bacteria can lead to toxic shock syndrome. These bacteria are common and usually don't cause problems. But in rare cases, the toxins enter the bloodstream and cause a severe immune reaction. This reaction causes the symptoms of TSS.

  • Toxic shock syndrome caused by strep most often occurs after childbirth, the flu (influenza), chickenpox, surgery, minor skin cuts or wounds, or injuries that cause bruising but may not break the skin.
  • Toxic shock syndrome caused by staph most often occurs after a tampon is kept in too long (menstrual TSS) or after surgery (nonmenstrual TSS).

If you have had TSS, you are more likely to get it again.1, 2

What are the symptoms?

Toxic shock symptoms get worse quickly and can be deadly within 2 days. Symptoms include:

  • Sudden fever over 102°F (39°C).
  • Signs of shock, including low blood pressure and rapid heartbeat; nausea; vomiting; or fainting or feeling lightheaded, restless, or confused.
  • A rash that looks like a sunburn. The rash can be on several areas of your body or just in certain places, such as the armpits or the groin.
  • Severe pain in an infected wound or injury.

Other TSS symptoms may include:

  • Severe flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches and pains, stomach cramps, a headache, or a sore throat.
  • Redness inside the nose and mouth.
  • Pinkeye (conjunctivitis).
  • Scaling, peeling skin, especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Having sudden, severe symptoms is one of the most important clues that you may have toxic shock syndrome. If you think you have TSS, get medical care right away.

How is toxic shock syndrome diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose toxic shock syndrome based on your symptoms. Tests can help show whether staph or strep bacteria are causing the infection. Tests you may need include:

  • Blood tests.
  • Tests on body fluids or tissues.
  • A chest X-ray to look for signs of damage to the lungs.
  • Tests to rule out other infections, such as an infection of the blood (sepsis), Rocky Mountain spotted fever, leptospirosis, and typhoid fever.

How is it treated?

Treatment for toxic shock syndrome almost always takes place in a hospital. Treatment includes:

  • Removing the source of the infection or cleaning the wound.
  • Treating complications, such as shock or liver, kidney, and lung failure.
  • Using antibiotics and other medicines to fight the infection.
1|2

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: July 20, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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