Symptoms and Complications

People often call tetanus “lockjaw” because one of the most common signs of this infection is tightening of the jaw muscles. Tetanus infection can lead to serious health problems, including being unable to open the mouth and having trouble swallowing and breathing.


Symptoms of tetanus include:

The first sign is most commonly spasms of the muscles of the jaw, or “lockjaw.”

Boy holding jaw in pain
  • Jaw cramping
  • Sudden, involuntary muscle spasms — often in the stomach
  • Painful muscle stiffness all over the body
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Seizures (jerking or staring)
  • Headache
  • Fever and sweating
  • Changes in blood pressure and heart rate


Serious health problems that can happen because of tetanus include:

  • Laryngospasm (uncontrolled/involuntary tightening of the vocal cords)
  • Fractures (broken bones)
  • Pulmonary embolism (blockage of the main artery of the lung or one of its branches by a blood clot that has travelled from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream)
  • Aspiration pneumonia (a lung infection that develops when things like saliva or vomit accidentally go into the lungs)
  • Breathing difficulty

Tetanus can lead to death (1 to 2 in 10 cases are fatal).