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Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. It is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which enters the body through a wound or cut. Tetanus is characterized by muscle stiffness, spasms, and lockjaw, and if left untreated, it can be life-threatening. In this article, we will explore the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for tetanus.

Muscle Stiffness and Spasms

One of the primary symptoms of tetanus is muscle stiffness. The muscles may feel tight and rigid, making it difficult to move or perform everyday tasks. As the infection progresses, muscle spasms may occur, causing sudden and involuntary contractions. These spasms can be painful and may affect various parts of the body.


Lockjaw, also known as trismus, is a common symptom of tetanus. It refers to the inability to open the mouth fully due to muscle stiffness and spasms in the jaw. This can make it challenging to eat, speak, or even breathe properly. If you experience lockjaw, it is crucial to seek medical attention immediately.

Fever, Sweating, and Rapid Heartbeat

Tetanus can also cause fever, sweating, and a rapid heartbeat. The body’s immune response to the infection can lead to an increase in body temperature, resulting in fever. Sweating may occur as the body tries to regulate its temperature. Additionally, the heart may beat faster than usual as it works harder to pump blood throughout the body.

High Blood Pressure

In some cases, tetanus can lead to high blood pressure. The increased muscle activity and spasms can cause blood vessels to constrict, resulting in elevated blood pressure levels. High blood pressure can put a strain on the heart and other organs, potentially leading to further complications.

Difficulty Swallowing

Tetanus can affect the muscles involved in swallowing, making it difficult to eat or drink. This symptom, known as dysphagia, can lead to weight loss and malnutrition if not properly managed. It is essential to seek medical attention if you experience difficulty swallowing.

Muscle Cramps and Irritability

Individuals with tetanus may also experience muscle cramps and irritability. The muscle cramps can be painful and may occur spontaneously or in response to stimuli. Irritability is a common symptom due to the discomfort and pain caused by the infection. It is important to rest and avoid overexertion to prevent worsening of symptoms.

Causes of Tetanus

Tetanus is caused by the bacterium Clostridium tetani, which is commonly found in soil, dust, and animal feces. The bacteria can enter the body through a wound or cut, especially if the wound is deep or contaminated. Tetanus is not contagious and cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Treatment Options

Tetanus requires immediate medical attention and treatment. The primary goal of treatment is to control muscle spasms, manage complications, and prevent further infection. Treatment options for tetanus may include:

  • Wound care: Cleaning and dressing the wound to prevent further bacterial growth.
  • Tetanus vaccine: Administering a tetanus vaccine to boost the body’s immune response and prevent future infections.
  • Tetanus immune globulin (TIG): Injecting TIG to provide immediate protection against the tetanus toxin.
  • Medications: Prescribing medications such as muscle relaxants and antibiotics to manage symptoms and prevent complications.
  • Supportive care: Providing supportive care, including pain management, nutrition support, and respiratory assistance if necessary.


Prevention is key when it comes to tetanus. The best way to prevent tetanus is through vaccination. The tetanus vaccine is typically given as part of the routine childhood immunization schedule. It is also recommended for adults, especially those who have not received a tetanus booster shot in the last ten years.

In addition to vaccination, practicing proper wound care is essential. Clean any wounds thoroughly with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic to prevent infection. If you have a deep or dirty wound, seek medical attention to determine if a tetanus booster shot is necessary.

It is important to note that tetanus cannot be cured once symptoms develop. However, with prompt medical treatment and supportive care, the prognosis for tetanus can be improved. Early recognition of symptoms and seeking immediate medical attention are crucial for a successful recovery.

In conclusion, tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that affects the nervous system. It is characterized by muscle stiffness, spasms, lockjaw, and other symptoms such as fever, sweating, and high blood pressure. Tetanus can be prevented through vaccination and proper wound care. If you suspect you have tetanus or have a deep or dirty wound, seek medical attention immediately. Remember, prevention is always better than cure when it comes to tetanus.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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