Tetanus: Treating Muscle Spasms

Thousands of people are afflicted with tetanus each year. Also called lockjaw, the condition is actually triggered by bacterial infection. There are several ways to prevent the problem. However, if symptoms start to manifest, the patient has to be treated using more thorough and advanced techniques and interventions. There are several things to know about tetanus that should help people in proper prevention and treatment. Knowing the possible risks, causes and effects will help people become more aware of tetanus.

Defining Tetanus

Lockjaw is a serious condition caused by infection or contamination by the bacteria called Clostridum tetani. The bacteria are usually found in soil but can also be present in other places and on things like dust, manure and saliva. The condition is easily acquired by individuals who wound themselves with an infected tool or item. The condition generally leads to tightening and pain of the affected muscles in different parts of the body. The jaw will also lock sometimes, which explains the other name of the disorder. People with tetanus will find it difficult to swallow or even open their mouth. There are some patients who die of suffocation because they cannot breathe properly due to the tightening of the muscles in the jaw area.

Once individuals acquire tetanus, the treatment approach can take several weeks or months. There are vaccines that will keep the bacteria at bay although the effects do not last a lifetime. This is why people need to get regular shots every year or as prescribed by their doctor. There are booster shots that are administered annually, every 3 years or every 10 years. Whenever people get a cut or are wounded by seemingly contaminated objects, doctors will immediately administer a tetanus toxoid shot.

Development

When the Clostridium tetani enters the body, it will go into regular blood circulation and create a neurotoxin that can have adverse effects on the nervous system. The poisonous protein is also referred to as tetanospasmin which will lead to the different effects of the condition, the most common being muscle spasms. The toxin will circulate throughout the body through the blood circulation and lymphatic system. As the toxins move into the different regions of the body, the nerves will also experience changes in their usual activity. Different muscles of the body will start to ache and contract involuntarily. If the condition is left untreated, patients can die.

Acquiring Tetanus

Majority of tetanus cases are subsequent to the acquisition of a contaminated wound, cut or puncture. Some injuries are considered very minor by some individuals that they fail to visit a doctor. The tiny problem can quickly escalate and produce drastic signs and symptoms. There are also other injuries that will predispose the person to developing the condition such as gangrene, burn injuries and frostbite. Wounds can be contaminated by infected water, feces, saliva and soil. This is why people should wash and clean their wounds and other possible openings to prevent the problem.

Neonatal tetanus is another condition which involves the contamination of newborn babies who are delivered in unclean situations or places. The condition can develop if the baby has cuts or wounds that are infected by contaminated tools or delivery instruments or if the umbilical cord stump is not properly cleaned or cut. Babies today are provided with tetanus immunizations to prevent the occurrence. Mothers who are given the shots can also pass on the beneficial effects to their babies while in-utero or when breastfeeding. Due to the widespread availability of immunizations and other preventive techniques around the world, the condition has become quite uncommon in many countries.

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Signs and Symptoms of Tetanus

The most common sign of tetanus is muscle spasm and rigidity. Patients who have the disorder may develop symptoms like muscle cramping in different parts of the body, irritability, muscle weakness, painful muscles and difficulty swallowing or breathing. The facial muscles are usually affected at first. Lockjaw or trismus is common among patients so it will be difficult for them to speak properly, chew or swallow. The person might present an unusual smile which is triggered by the spasms in the facial muscles.

The person might also present arching of the back. In some cases, the bones and joints can become dislocated or even break because of the odd positions assumed by the body during intense muscle contractions. On rare occasions, the vocal cords or respiratory muscles may also contract involuntarily. Patients who develop problems in normal breathing can die. The muscle spasms can occur on the legs, abdomen, arms and neck. These signs and symptoms of tetanus can last anywhere between a few days and several months.

Treating Tetanus

The medical interventions associated with the proper treatment of tetanus will usually involve eradicating the existing bacteria as well as stopping the formation of further toxins. Patients also have to be given different approaches that will alleviate the pain and symptoms associated with the disease. Whenever a person gets a cut or wound, doctors would naturally administer a tetanus toxoid booster to prevent the possible spread of bacteria. Antibiotics can also be given to eliminate the bacteria. The toxins can be neutralized by an antitoxin or TIG, also known as tetanus immune globulin.

Some individuals might take pain relievers and muscle relaxants for the muscle effects. Some patients will need IV administration to restore fluids and improve the overall condition since metabolic requirements might rise due to the presence and effects of the bacteria. Patients having difficulty breathing might be given muscle relaxants, sedatives or ventilator support. Patients should be monitored closely throughout the treatment. Some treatments will only last a few days while others will linger for months.

Preventing Tetanus

There are several ways to prevent tetanus. Primarily, people should be careful when handling tools, objects and other items that can cause wounds or cuts. They should also wash wounds thoroughly with soap and water. Cover cuts and openings of the body with gauze or band-aid to prevent contamination from bacteria present in the soil, dust, etc. Children, in particular, should be monitored when playing.