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When a woman finds a tampon has become stuck or “lost” after insertion, this is referred to as a retained tampon.
This might happen as a result of inserting a new tampon before removing the previous one, engaging in intercourse while a tampon is still in, or by forgetting a tampon is inserted when the end of a period is reached.
Since the vagina is quite an elastic canal, having intercourse while a tampon is in or inserting a second tampon is possible. The tampon may then turn sideways inside the vagina and become compressed at the top of the vagina, near the cervix. The cord that usually stays outside of the body can get drawn in, making it difficult to remove the tampon. If a woman forgets to remove a tampon once her period has finished, the same can happen, although the cord may still be visible.
It is not possible for a tampon to become “lost” inside the abdomen. The tampon stays at the end of the vagina, next to the cervix. The cervix has a tiny opening through which blood and semen can pass, but this opening is too small for a tampon to pass through.
The tampon itself can also not cause any damage to the vagina or cervix. The main concern in the case of a retained tampon is an infection referred to as toxic shock syndrome.
Toxic shock syndrome is a rare, but potentially dangerous bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes. These are bacteria that are usually present on skin, nose, or mouth, where they live without causing any harm. However, they can enter the bloodstream and release toxins that cause damage to the skin, organs, and other tissues.
Although it is possible for a tampon string to get drawn into the vagina, it is still often possible to feel the tampon, grasp it, and remove it. However, if this is not possible, a healthcare professional at a GP practice or sexual health clinic will be able to remove it.
In some cases, a woman may not be sure whether a tampon has become retained or not. The following are signs that this may have happened:
If any of these symptoms have developed, it is not advised that a woman tries to remove the tampon herself and medical attention should be sought.
Guidelines advise that a tampon should not be left inside the body for more than eight hours. If a tampon has become retained and a woman has none of the symptoms mentioned above, she may wish to try removing the object herself by following the steps outlined below:
If it is still not possible to remove the tampon, assistance should be sought from a nurse or doctor. The following steps would then be followed.