Signs and symptoms of tetanus

Tetanus is a condition that affects the nervous system and has the potential to be lethal, but it can be prevented through immunization. The most common is generalized tetanus but it can be localized, affecting only a part of the body where the infected entered. In most cases, the infection can spread all over the body once the bacteria from an infected wound are released into the bloodstream, especially wounds that are dirty and deep.

Manifestation of the symptoms

The symptoms of tetanus can develop between 5 days to 15 weeks after a puncture or cut was sustained. Nevertheless, the incubation period is typically between 3 days to 3 weeks. A diagnosis is usually based on the physical symptoms and there are no laboratory tests that can accurately detect the disease. The toxin moves on to the nerves as bacteria from the wound that is infected enters the bloodstream. In case it is localized, the individual can experience discomfort or sensation of tingling at the site of the infection.

Muscle spasms

Neck spasms

The spasms can also affect the back, neck, abdominal muscles as well as the respiratory muscles in the chest.

As a progressive disease, the symptoms affect the muscles in the legs and arms, resulting to rigidity of the calf and pectoral muscles. The muscle spasms can also lead to the tightening of the abdomen, tilting of the head while the spine arches backwards. This is quite common among children with tetanus. The spasms can also affect the back, neck, abdominal muscles as well as the respiratory muscles in the chest.


The spores of bacteria produce a toxin that affects the central nervous system. This toxin prevents the release of amino acid called glycine which contributes to the movement of muscles. The initial symptoms to appear are face, jaw and neck stiffness. The jaw locks thus resulting to difficulty of opening the mouth as well as swallowing and eventually leading to respiratory muscle paralysis. Other accompanying symptoms include bleeding into the bowels, diarrhea, fever, headache, sore throat, sensitivity to touch and chest pain.

Complications from the symptoms

The symptoms of tetanus can lead to complications such as injury to the spine or bones due to severe muscle spasms, difficulty breathing, elevated blood pressure and rapid heart rate. Obviously, secondary infections can occur due to long-term hospitalization under intensive care during the recovery process, thus increasing the risk for hospital-borne infections.

Life-threatening symptoms

Even though the exact cause on how tetanus causes death is still unknown, there are several theories. Take note that the symptoms of tetanus were known to cause death by contributing to kidney failure, cardiac arrest, blood poisoning and even suffocation due to muscle spasms.

If the symptoms appear earlier, there is a higher chance of death from related complications.  Always remember that the incubation period is longer if the wound affects a body part away from the central nervous system. Any abrasions, cuts, lacerations and animal bites can become infected with the bacteria that cause tetanus even if proper first aid care has been provided.


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