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Symptoms, Causes, Related Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Key Points

  • Tetanus is a severe bacterial infection that causes muscle stiffness, difficulty swallowing, fever, and an increased heart rate. It's often caused by wounds contaminated with Clostridium bacteria.
  • Vaccination is a primary method of preventing Tetanus, beginning in childhood with the DTap vaccine and continuing with booster shots every decade.
  • Proper wound care can also help prevent Tetanus, as the bacteria often enters the body through injuries.
  • If Tetanus does occur, immediate medical attention is necessary and treatment may involve antitoxins, antibiotics, and therapies to control muscle spasms.
  • Tetanus is also known as Lockjaw, and the article provides a list of questions a doctor may ask about the condition.

Possible Symptoms for Tetanus

Jaw Stiffness

Jaw stiffness and difficulty moving the jaw are probably the most obvious signs of tetanus.[1] The jaw becomes stiff because the bacteria that cause tetanus make the muscles in the body tighten, and the muscles most associated with the condition are in the jaw. The jaw becomes incredibly rigid or even immobile, leading to the common term “lockjaw.”

Stiffness Throughout the Body

Tetanus doesn’t only occur in the jaw. It can spread throughout the body to the muscles in your neck, back, chest, and stomach. All of these muscles can become tight and difficult to move. Muscle spasms are also a common side effect of tetanus.[1]

Difficulty Swallowing

When the muscles in the throat become stiff, they can make it hard for you to swallow. Once the full effects of lockjaw set in, you can’t even open your mouth to take in food or liquids. This is one of the most serious side effects of tetanus and one of the main reasons medical treatment is necessary for this condition.[2]


Fever is another common symptom of tetanus. A person’s temperature often rises as the result of a bacterial infection; the body attempts to get rid of the infection by increasing heat. This also leads to sweating and discomfort. All of these symptoms are common signs of tetanus.

Increased Heartrate

Your heart starts to beat much faster when you suffer from tetanus. Your blood pressure will likely increase as well.[1] These are both smaller but still distinctive signs of the condition that you can look for, in case you are not certain that your muscle stiffness has been caused by tetanus.

Top 5 Causes of Tetanus

1. Wound

Most of the time, tetanus occurs when a person sustains a wound that becomes contaminated with something containing Clostridium bacteria, which cause tetanus.[2] A person could already have a wound that becomes contaminated, such as a cut that becomes infected, or they could sustain a wound from something already contaminated, like a rusty nail or a contaminated needle.

2. Burn

Someone who has a burn could also become contaminated by Clostridium bacteria. A burn can affect the outer layer of skin or much deeper layers; because the inner parts of the skin are exposed, the bacteria can get into the body through the burned area.[3]

3. Injury

Sometimes, a person sustains an injury where bacteria can enter the bloodstream. Crushing injuries can commonly become associated with tetanus, as can injuries that involve dead tissue.[1] It is important to take care of an injury, even if you cannot see any areas where the outer layer of skin is compromised.

4. Pet or Animal Bite

Most people know that an animal bite can lead to lockjaw, but the truth is that this outcome isn’t very common.[1] Still, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention if you are bitten by an animal, especially a wild animal or one that is not your own pet, as tetanus is a possible side effect of an animal bite.

5. Infection

Some infections can lead to tetanus, as the bacteria can still become introduced into the system through an infected area. Dental infections can sometimes lead to tetanus, as can a chronic infection that produces sores.[1]

2 Ways to Prevent Tetanus

1. Get Vaccinated

Those looking to prevent tetanus should get vaccinated.[4] It’s best to start during childhood, when the tetanus vaccine is part of a three-sided vaccination called the DTap vaccination. This shot contains vaccines for pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus, and most children receive it when they are very young.[1] After this, it is important for children to get a booster shot for tetanus at about age 12; adults should receive a booster shot called the Td shot every 10 years. After mandatory vaccines end, many adults do not stay up to date on these shots, so it is important to find out if you should get vaccinated.

2. Protect Wounds

If you know you have a wound, it’s important to protect and care for it so you can avoid infection and further issues. Any time you see a break in the skin, use first aid. Cover the cut or wound with a bandage, especially when outside. Wash your hands before and after touching your wound.

Possible Tetanus Treatment Options

Immediate Help

Sometimes, tetanus cannot be prevented. If you think you or someone else has been infected with tetanus bacteria, call 911 or go to the hospital right away.[5] It is necessary to seek immediate medical treatment if you think you have tetanus because the symptoms will only worsen, making it harder for you to move or swallow.

Tetanus Treatment

In the hospital, you will receive treatment with antitoxins and antibiotics associated with tetanus.[6] Often, a medicine called human tetanus immune globulin is necessary.[5] You might also need therapy or medicines to control your muscle spasms. It is much easier to prevent tetanus than to treat it, and people who develop the disease often require treatment in a hospital for several months.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Tetanus

  • How long have you had the symptoms of tetanus?
  • Do you have a wound or cut that may have become infected?
  • Where do you think you contracted the bacteria?
  • Are you up to date on your tetanus vaccines?

Tetanus May Also Be Known as

  • Lockjaw

Frequently asked questions

  • What is Tetanus?

    Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection that can cause symptoms like muscle stiffness, difficulty swallowing, fever, and an increased heart rate.
  • How is Tetanus caused?

    Tetanus is commonly caused by a wound that gets contaminated with Clostridium bacteria. This can happen through burns, injuries, animal bites, and other types of infections.
  • How can Tetanus be prevented?

    Tetanus can be prevented through vaccination, starting with the DTap vaccine in childhood and continuing with booster shots every ten years. It's also important to take care of wounds properly to avoid infection.
  • What happens if I get Tetanus?

    If you get Tetanus, you'll need immediate medical attention. Treatment usually involves antitoxins, antibiotics, and therapies to control muscle spasms.
  • What other name is Tetanus known by?

    Tetanus is also commonly known as Lockjaw.
  • What are some questions a doctor might ask about Tetanus?

    A doctor might ask about your vaccination history, any recent wounds or injuries you've had, and the symptoms you're experiencing.
  • Can Tetanus symptoms worsen over time?

    Yes, Tetanus symptoms can worsen over time, which is why immediate medical help is necessary if you suspect you have the infection.
  • Are there any other ways to prevent Tetanus besides vaccination and wound care?

    The article primarily discusses vaccination and wound care as the main methods of preventing Tetanus. However, it's always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional for more personalized advice.

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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