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Health A-Z

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Harvard Medical School

Diagnosis

Because a patient with toxic shock syndrome may be too ill to answer questions, a family member or friend may need to tell the doctor about the patient's medical history and symptoms. In general, the doctor will ask whether the patient has had any recent wounds or surgical procedures or has complained about a rash or a skin infection.

To help establish the diagnosis, the doctor will thoroughly examine you, including your vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature), and your heart, lungs, abdomen, skin, muscles and neurological system. Your doctor also will order the following tests to determine if the problem is caused by toxic shock syndrome or another process, and to evaluate the severity of your illness:

  • Blood tests to measure levels of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets

  • Blood tests to evaluate how well the blood clots

  • Blood chemistry tests to measure kidney function (blood urea nitrogen, or BUN, and creatinine) and liver function (liver enzymes and total bilirubin)

  • Urinalysis

  • Tests to check blood samples, wound discharge or other body fluids for the presence of group A streptococcal or staphylococcal bacteria

In addition, people with severe breathing difficulties will need a chest X-ray and a test for blood oxygen content.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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