• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

Tetanus is a serious disease of the nervous system caused by a toxin-producing bacterium. The disease causes muscle contractions, particularly of your jaw and neck muscles. Tetanus is commonly known as lockjaw.

Severe complications of tetanus are life-threatening. There is no cure for tetanus. Treatment focuses on managing the symptoms and complications until the effects of tetanus toxicity are resolved.

Due to the widespread use of vaccines, cases of tetanus are rare in the United States and other parts of the grown world. The disease poses a threat to those who are not up to date on vaccines. It is very common in developing countries.


The onset of symptoms (incubation period) from infection is on average 10 days. The incubation period can range from 3 to 21 days.

The most common type of tetanus is called common tetanus. Symptoms begin gradually and gradually worsen within two weeks. They usually start in the jaw and progress downwards in the body.

Symptoms of generalized tetanus include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Rigid abdominal muscles
  • The tension of the muscles around your lips sometimes produces a continuous laugh
  • Painful muscle cramps in your jaw and stiff, immobile muscles (muscle stiffness)
  • Painful grip and stiffness in your neck muscles

Progression of tetanus results in repeated painful, seizure-like spasms that last for some minutes (generalized spasms). Generally, the neck and back arch, the legs become rigid, the arms are drawn up to the body, and the fists are clenched. Muscle rigidity in the neck and abdomen may cause breathing problems.

These severe seizures can be triggered by small emotional triggers – loud noise, body touch, draft, or light.

As the disease progresses, other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Low blood pressure
  • Extreme sweating
  • Rapid heart rate

Localized tetanus

This uncommon form of tetanus results in muscle spasms near the site of a wound. While it’s usually a less severe form of the disease, it can progress to generalized tetanus.

Cephalic tetanus

This rare type of tetanus is the result of a head injury. It causes cramping of weak muscles and jaw muscles in the face. It can also progress to common tetanus.


The bacterium that causes tetanus is called Clostridium tetani. The bacterium can live dormant in soil and animal feces. It will mainly shut down until it finds a place to thrive.

When inactive bacteria enter a wound – good for growth – the cells “wake up.” As they grow and divide, they release a toxin called tetanospasmin. This toxin affects the nerves in the body that control the muscles.

Risk factors

The biggest risk factor for tetanus infection is not being vaccinated or not following 10 years of booster shots. 

Other factors that increase the risk of a tetanus infection include:

  • Cuts or bruises exposed to soil or manure
  • A foreign body in an injury such as a nail or a fissure
  • History of immune-suppressive medical conditions
  • Skin lesions in people with diabetes
  • Umbilical cord infection when a mother is not fully vaccinated
  • Shared and unhygienic injections for illicit drug use


Complications of tetanus infection may include:

  • Breathing problems. Tightening of the vocal cords and muscle spasms in the neck and abdomen can lead to life-threatening respiratory problems, especially during generalized seizures.
  • Blockage of a lung artery (pulmonary embolism). A blood clot that has traveled elsewhere in your body can block the main artery of the lungs or one of its branches.
  • Pneumonia. Lung infection (aspiration pneumonia) caused by accidentally inhaling something into the lungs can be a complication of common seizures.
  • Broken bones. Common seizures can cause fractures of the spine or other bones
  • Death.  Death caused by tetanus is caused by damage to the airways that are blocked during seizures or to the nerves that control breathing, heart rate, or other organ functions.

When to see a doctor

Tetanus is a life-threatening disease. If you have any signs or symptoms of tetanus, seek emergency treatment. If you have a simple, clean wound – and have had a tetanus shot within 10 years – you can take care of your wound at home.