• Alternative Names



    Tetanus often begins with mild spasms in the jaw muscles (lockjaw). The spasms can also affect the chest, neck, back, and abdominal muscles. Back muscle spasms often cause arching, called opisthotonos.

    Sometimes the spasms affect muscles that help with breathing, which can lead to breathing problems.

    Prolonged muscular action causes sudden, powerful, and painful contractions of muscle groups. This is called tetany. These episodes can cause fractures and muscle tears.

    Other symptoms include:

    • Drooling
    • Excessive sweating
    • Fever
    • Hand or foot spasms
    • Irritability
    • Swallowing difficulty
    • Uncontrolled urination or defecation

    Signs and tests

    Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history. No specific lab test is available to determine the diagnosis of tetanus.

    Other tests may be used to rule out meningitis, rabies, strychnine poisoning, and other diseases with similar symptoms.