An ob-gyn sets the record straight on how risky it is to forget to change your tampon every now and then

By Moira Lawler
Updated: September 21, 2016

You'll definitely increase your risk, but you won't necessarily come down with toxic shock syndrome (TSS) the first time you forget. "Say you fall asleep and you forget to change the tampon in the middle of the night," says Evangeline Ramos-Gonzales, M.D., an ob-gyn with the Institute for Women's Health in San Antonio. "It's not like you're guaranteed to be doomed the next morning, but it definitely increases the risk when it's left in for a prolonged period of time." (Did you know There May Soon Be a Vaccine to Prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome?)

Canadian researchers estimate TSS strikes only .79 of every 100,000 women, and most cases affect teenage girls. "They don't realize the dangerous consequences that can occur, while older women are a little more knowledgeable," Ramos-Gonzales says.

Leaving your tampon in all day isn't the only way to contract TSS, though. Ever insert a super-absorbency tampon on a light day of your period simply because it was the only one in your bag? We've all been there, but it's an important habit to break. "You do not want to have a tampon in that's over the absorbency of what you need because that's when we get into more risk," Ramos-Gonzales says. "You'll end up with a lot of tampon material that's not needed, and that's when the bacteria has access to the tampon material."

The bacteria, which are normal bacteria that live in the vagina, can then overgrow on the tampon and leak into the blood stream if you don't change your tampon every four to six hours. "Once the bacteria's in the blood stream, it starts releasing all these toxins that start shutting down the different organs," Ramos-Gonzales says.

The first symptoms closely resemble the flu. From there, TSS can progress quickly, going from a fever to low blood pressure to organ failure within eight hours, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Medicine. The mortality rate of TSS can be as high as 70 percent, the researchers found, but catching it early is key to survival. Even though it's rare, hurry to the doctor if you think toxic shock syndrome could be the reason you're feeling feverish.



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