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Tetanus, otherwise known as lockjaw is a severe and often deadly bacterial infection that is more common in third world countries. In the United States, there are still reported cases in those who fail to maintain proper vaccinations. Tetanus affects the central nervous system and typically focuses on muscle tightness at first. Tetanus is considered to be an urgent medical situation and treatment should never be delayed. It affects an estimated one million people per year throughout the world.

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Muscle Contractions

The most common side effect of lockjaw is the spasms that occur in the facial area, namely the jawbone followed by spasms into the neck. These spasms can be excruciating and limit mobility to the point of being non-existent. Lockjaw or tetanus is also known to cause stiffness in the back, abdomen, and legs. It can easily be triggered by things like a draft, light sounds or loud noises. It is most often treated with muscle relaxers and with a tetanus vaccine to prevent re-infection.

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Common Causes of Lockjaw

While it may seem meaningless, some common cause of lockjaw are dust, dirt,  animal droppings, open wounds, cuts, and rusty nails. A bacteria is transmitted called Clostridium tetani. Once inside the human body, it quickly spreads to the central nervous system and produces a toxic substance called tetanospasmin. This substance begins to block nerve signals to the spinal cord and the muscles throughout the body. This bacteria is resistant to high heat.

Common Causes of Lockjaw
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Bone Fractures/Broken Bones

Over time the intensity and frequency of muscle spasms can result in broken bones and or fractures of the spine, legs, and arms. These injuries can be life-threatening. Especially when involving the spine and neck. While the fractures may be healed in time, the area will still experience these contractions. The fractures and breaks cause more complications and possible infections making a complete recovery lengthy.

Bone Fractures/Broken Bones
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Muscle Spasms / Stiffness

Muscle spasms are the most common symptom of lockjaw. The first signs of the spasms are typically seen in the jaw bones followed by the neck and spine. Muscle stiffness in the jaw, abdomen, back, and neck are also common signs and can be mistaken as spasms with their on and off activities. The muscles contractions can easily be triggered by events as light as small drafts, light sounds or loud noises. The spasms and stiffness are most often treated with muscle relaxers and a tetanus vaccine to prevent reinfection. Secondary infections can include hospital stays. Prolonged hospital stays will expose individuals to staph infections such as MRSA. It is a common secondary infection and a severe enough infection within itself. Finally, tetanus is so severe that death is highly possible when infections become primary and secondary.

Muscle Spasms / Stiffness
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Fever/Sweating

As the infection runs through the body, a fever will spike. While it may not be present initially, it can come on suddenly and excessively. It is typical and non-specific as it occurs in most infections, but the extreme nature is of the most concern. Fevers are typically found to be associated with excessive sweating.. These causes are due to a disruption of the sympathetic nervous system.

Fever/Sweating
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Blood Pressure/Heart Rate

Tachycardia or having a fast heart rate above one hundred beats per minute is a sign of lockjaw. It is often combined with high blood pressure above 120 over 80. In either case, the changes can be sudden. Breathing becomes so restricted that cardiac arrest is imminent. These activities are mainly due to the overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system.

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TIG-Tetanus Immune Globulin

Tetanus Immune Globulin is a medication that is used to treat lockjaw once it has been introduced into the body. This medication is given after an individual has been exposed to the Clostridium Tetani Bacteria. It is a counter agent to the bacteria and will immediately begin attacking the bacteria to fight off any progression. Typically, it is given with other medications and therapies such as breathing treatments. A more significant dose may be ordered if treatment is not immediately begun after an injury. Taken during pregnancy, it can cause complications to the fetus.

Rusty nail in the wood lay down cement floor.
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Antibiotics

A physician can treat lockjaw or tetanus with antibiotics. While not all lockjaw cases will respond to antibiotics, if it is caught earlier enough, they can be useful in staving off the infection. The body can begin to regrow the nerve roots faster before further damage. There is no cure for lockjaw once the nerve endings have been affected. There is only systemic relief until the new nerve endings can regrow. The new nerve ending will push the toxic bacteria from the body. Proper healing time for the body could take as long as seven to twelve months.  

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Cleaning the Wound

If the nature of lockjaw is a wound puncture, the first method of treatment would be to cleanse the wound. In cleaning the wound, you want to be sure to flush to area thoroughly to remove any bacteria left behind. Another form of cleaning a wound is called debridement. Debridement is the process of removing all the dead or infected tissue around the wound. This process is completed once an infection has taken over an area.

Cleaning the Wound
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Complications of Lockjaw/Tetanus

There are several well-known and long-term complications of lockjaw. Some of these complications can include brain damage, abnormal heart rate, bone fractures and fractures of the spine. Laryngospasm is of particular concern. It causes damage to the vocal cords due to spasms occurring in the area and prohibiting the ability to speak and or breath. The contractions that control your breathing can cause full-blown respiratory failure resulting in death or brain damage due to the lack of oxygen. Pneumonia or other infections of the lungs can endanger your ability to breath naturally or efficiently enough to move through regular activity and may require hospitalization. A hospitalization will open its own complications.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.