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Tetanus (cont.)

Tetanus Diagnosis

The diagnosis of generalized tetanus is usually made by observing the clinical presentation and a combination of the following:

  • History of a recent injury resulting in skin breakage (but this is not universal; only 70% of cases have an identified injury)
  • Incomplete tetanus immunizations
  • Progressive muscle spasms (starting in the facial region, especially lockjaw and progressing outward from the face to include all muscles of the body)
  • Fever
  • Changes in blood pressure (especially high blood pressure)
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • In localized tetanus, pain, cramps, or muscle spasms occur at or near a recent skin injury.
  • Neonates show signs of being generally irritable, muscle spasms, and poor ability to take in liquids (poor sucking response), usually seen in neonates about 7-10 days old.
  • Laboratory tests are rarely used to diagnose tetanus. However, some reference labs can determine if the patient has serum antitoxin levels that are protective, and thus a positive test detecting these levels suggests that the diagnosis of tetanus is unlikely.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/30/2014

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Tetanus »

The word tetanus comes from the Greek tetanos, which is derived from the term teinein, meaning to stretch.

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