Model Lauren Wasser’s Warning about Tampons

Model Lauren Wasser is telling People magazine that she will never use a tampon again, and you shouldn’t either.

The 27-year-old California native contracted toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in 2012 as a result of tampon use. TSS caused Wasser to suffer organ failure and a heart attack. She also developed gangrene in her legs. She had to undergo a below-the-knee amputation of her right leg and her left foot was severely damaged.

Wasser now hopes to use her story as a way to educate other young women to the dangers of tampon use:

“Had I known toxic shock was real, and had I seen someone that had either lost limbs or spoke about it publicly, I would have never used tampons.”

“This is not just about me. It’s about the future, and it’s about these young girls that use tampons all the time. If people see the pain I’ve had to go through, maybe they’ll be more cautious and they’ll use pads, stop sleeping in them and just take care of themselves more.”

Wasser has filed a lawsuit involving Kimberly-Clark Corporation—the manufacturer and distributor of Kotex Natural Balance tampons- the brand Lauren was using when she came down with TSS. Her goal is to highlight the potential dangers of tampon use and to force companies to make instructions clearer for users. For example, that users should use the lightest tampon that works for their flow, that they should be changed frequently and that pads should be used during sleep.

 What is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)?

Although TSS is most common in menstruating women who use tampons, TSS can occur in both men and women and children at any age. In addition to tampon use, toxic shock syndrome has been associated with:

    • Having cuts or burns on your skin
    • Having had recent surgery
    • Using contraceptive sponges or diaphragms
    • Having a viral infection, such as the flu or chickenpox

Why are tampons associated with toxic shock syndrome?

relyboxToxic shock syndrome made headlines in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s after the deaths of a number of young, previously healthy women. All were using a brand of superabsorbent tampons, called Rely. Previously, tampons were made from natural ingredients, such as cotton. The superabsorbent tampons added synethetic ingredients such as rayon, or a substance called “gelled carboxymethylcellulose.” These material were designed to better absorb fluids. However, according to a study from Yale University, it also created a perfect environment for bacteria to grow.  This was especially true for women who harbor the Staph germ asymptomatically in their body.

Rely tampons were removed from the market and warning labels were put on tampon packaging to warn women of the potential for TSS:

Attention: Tampons are associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome(TSS). TSS is a rare but serious disease that may cause death. Read and save the enclosed information.

What are the symptoms of TSS?

The symptoms of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) normally begin with a sudden high fever of 102° F or higher.

Other symptoms then rapidly develop, often over the course of only a few hours. They may include:

  • flu-like symptoms including headache, muscle aches, sore throat and cough
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • fainting or feeling faint
  • dizziness or confusion
  • low blood pressure

skin sloughA widespread sunburn-like skin rash may also occur (especially on the palms and soles), with the whites of the eyes, lips and tongue becoming more red than usual.

One or two weeks after the rash appears, it is common that the skin begins to shed in large sheets, especially from the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

What are the complications of TSS?

Possible complications of TSS include:

  • Organ damage including kidney, heart, and liver failure
  • Shock
  • Poor circulation of blood in the extremities (an effect of shock) can lead to gangrene (the death of tissue) which can lead to amputation of the affected limb(s).
  • Death

Treatment of TSS requires a combination of antibiotics and intense supportive care to stabilize blood pressure and support any organ which may be failing. Surgery may be necessary to remove dead tissue in the extremities.

If you suspect you may be showing signs of TSS, remove the tampon and contact your physician immediately!

 

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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