Menstrual Cups and Toxic Shock Syndrome: What You Need to Know

September 2, 2022

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is an extremely rare bacterial condition. But, it’s life-threatening and misdiagnosed can result in death. Cases of TSS get a lot of media coverage. Understandably, it causes a lot of fear. Menstruating people have a higher risk of developing TSS than any other group, but it’s not directly linked to menstruation. We want everyone to make educated decisions about their health. That’s why you’ll learn from this article:

  • what is toxic shock syndrome (TSS),
  • how period products (tampons and menstrual cups) are related to it,
  • what to do when you observe unsettling symptoms
  • and how to take care of your health.

What Is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a bacterial infection caused by toxins produced by a Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria or group A streptococcus (strep) bacteria. The mentioned bacteria exist on the skin, mouth, or nose of 20% of the population and causes no harm provided it doesn’t enter the bloodstream.

What Are the Symptoms of TSS?

If the bacteria enters the bloodstream, it may cause:

  • a sudden fever,
  • persistent low blood pressure,
  • vomiting or diarrhoea,
  • a rash resembling a sunburn,
  • confusion,
  • muscle pain,
  • seizures,
  • headaches.

Unfortunately, many diseases result in those symptoms, which makes the diagnosis difficult. Few cases of TSS result in death due to multiple organ failure.

How Is TSS Related to Menstruation?

Vaginal wall irritation and not hygienic use of menstrual products create a greater possibility for bacteria entering the bloodstream and producing the toxin.

Bacteria may be present on the skin or in the vagina, skin wounds and vaginal wall irritation increase the risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream and producing the toxin. Other high-risk factors are surgery, tampon use, menstrual cup use, contraceptive sponges and diaphragms. A menstruating person may not be aware of micro fracturing in the vaginal wall, so it's always essential to follow the instructions of the hygienic use of tampons and menstrual cups.

Are Tampons Safer Than Menstrual Cups?

There were cases when people developed TSS by using super-absorbent tampons, which are now banned from use, and cases of TSS with the use of a period cup.

However, the official medical advice is that both products are safe! Proper use of them carries minimal risk of infection only if the person is carrying the mentioned bacteria.

How to Act When You Experience Symptoms?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should contact your doctor immediately and if necessary go to the hospital emergency room. If you use period protection at the moment, remove it and inform your doctor about what and how you use it. If you happen to leave a tampon or menstrual cup for longer than the instructions say, don’t forget to inform your doctor about it. The infection develops fast, so you must act without hesitation.

What to Do to Prevent Developing TSS?

Always follow the instructions. Sterilise your cup between the cycles. Don’t leave it in your body longer than 8-12 hours depending on the instructions. Don’t use harsh cleaners or oil on your cup. Wash your hands before inserting them into the vagina. Read more about the hygienic use of period cups.

Is a Menstrual Cup a Safe Option?

Let’s say it one more time. Yes, using a menstrual cup is safe for your health. No period product is risk-free, but period cups carry minimal risk.