Tetanus - Topic Overview
What are the symptoms?
symptoms appear slowly and get worse over time. The time it takes for symptoms
to appear after a cut or injury ranges from days to months. In most cases,
symptoms of tetanus appear within 14 days.
Tetanus symptoms often
begin with a headache and trouble opening your mouth (lockjaw). You also may
have trouble swallowing and/or a stiff neck, back, or shoulders.
As the toxin spreads, it can be deadly. It can cause problems with your blood
pressure and heart rate. It can cause severe and painful muscle spasms in your
neck, arms, legs, and belly. If spasms continue and get worse, they can break
bones, including the spine.
How is tetanus diagnosed?
There is no lab test for tetanus. A doctor can
usually diagnose tetanus after asking questions about your symptoms and past
health and doing a physical exam. Because other problems can cause muscle
spasms like tetanus, your doctor will do tests to make sure your symptoms are
not caused by something else.
Your doctor will do tests to decide
how to treat your symptoms. For example, he or she may order a blood
test (arterial blood gases) to see how well
you are breathing.
How is it treated?
If you are infected with tetanus, you will need
to stay in a hospital so you can get medicines and fluids to control muscle
spasms and pain. You also may need treatment to help you breathe. Your doctor
will fully clean any wound or cut to remove bacteria. Cleaning the affected
area stops bacteria from making toxin. Treatment also includes:
These medicines kill bacteria.
- Tetanus immunoglobulin (TIG). This
is a protein that helps your body's immune system find and destroy bacteria.
TIG boosts your
immunity while your body fights the
- Medicines to decrease muscle spasms. You also may be
treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) with medicines that paralyze your
muscles for a while until your body begins to recover. In this case, you will
need treatment to help with breathing and other body functions.
After you've had tetanus, you are not immune to the
disease. You could get infected again. So keep getting routine tetanus shots
after you get better.