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)
- 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.
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