Tetanus: Symptoms & Signs

Medically Reviewed on 9/10/2019

Tetanus is an infectious disease. A vaccine to prevent tetanus is available.

Signs and symptoms of tetanus are due to nervous system dysfunction and include progressive muscle spasms that cause stiffness and spasm of muscles throughout the body, including the breathing muscles. Tetanus is often fatal. Other associated symptoms can include headache, irritability, and restlessness. The stiffness of the jaw caused by tetanus has been referred to as lockjaw.

Cause of tetanus

Infection with the bacteria known as Clostridium tetani causes tetanus. The illness affects the nervous system and is caused by a production of a toxin by the tetanus bacteria. People most commonly acquire tetanus through contaminated wounds, and any skin break can lead to infection with the tetanus bacteria.

Other tetanus symptoms and signs

  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Lockjaw
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Muscle Stiffness
  • Restlessness


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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.